Deputy Education Director, Hampton Roads Naval Museum
When you talk to Jim about his Navy experiences, he will share story after story. There are times when I’ve stopped him and said, “And you didn’t get kicked out of the Navy for this?” Jim grew up around the world as a Navy brat. In 1947, when he was in sixth grade, Jim’s family moved to Guam. He remembers this time clearly, as the Second World War had been over for less than two years. The Marines on Guam still occasionally tracked Japanese soldiers on the island who refused to surrender. Jim reminisced, “These poor guys did not believe that their country had lost the war, so they chose to evade capture by living the life of a scavenger. They were really not anxious to be seen by anyone, so they were not a threat to us. They avoided even us kids. We didn’t know this, so we imagined that there might be a Japanese warrior hidden behind every bush.” Jim also remembered playing with hand grenades that failed to explode during the war. Luckily, they didn’t explode when Jim was playing with them, either. Thus, it was at an early age that he began to tempt death.
Jim Reid contemplates his next move in the museum's Life at Sea room. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
Jim attended the Naval Academy, graduating in 1957. He became a naval aviator who saw action during Vietnam. Prior to Vietnam, in the early 1960s, Jim was a member of VA-85, an A-1H Skyraider/”Spad” ground attack squadron assigned to the carrier USS Forrestal (CV-59). One of his well-told stories was about Sandblower training, which was designed to help pilots fly below enemy radar en route to a nuclear target. Jim’s plane took off with seven others from USS Forrestal in the pitch black at 0400 in the morning for this training, with Jim wearing his exposure suit and carrying his chart, knee-board, maneuvering board, a boxed lunch, and his helmet. Jim took off in the dark, using more fuel during the ten-hour flight than anticipated because he tried to catch up when he checked in late at one of his checkpoints. Exhausted and hurting after sitting in the exact same position for ten hours, Jim still had to land his plane on the ship. When the cut came from the Landing Signal Officer (LSO), he was still too high. He put both hands on the stick and pushed, in so much pain from sitting that he didn’t care if he crashed. At the last second, Jim pulled back from the dive and came down like a brick, hitting the deck hard. He was so stiff that he needed three plane captains to help extricate himself from the cockpit—and, when he reached the ready room, he expected to lose his wings for such a terrible landing. When he got there, though, the LSO said, “Okay, three.” Jim remembered, “I was astonished. ‘How could that be? It was the worst pass I ever made.’ The LSO smiled at him and said, ‘You should have seen the other seven.’”
This story is typical of Jim’s time in the Navy. He shares his wit, wisdom, and experiences with the staff of HRNM and with our visitors who come into the museum. The museum is a much better place because of what people like Jim add when they’re here. Jim’s favorite part of volunteering is, of course, being able to tell his stories to willing audiences, and being able to have historical discussions with our visitors.
Jim Reid discusses the circumstances surrounding the Battle of Hampton Roads with museum visitors Matthew, Ed, and Stephanie Simpson, from Charles Town, West Virginia. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)