Veteran James Gilkeson, Jr.

James Gilkeson, Jr.

Jim Gilkeson, a man with an always happy countenance and ready smile, has memories of the past going back to age five when he lived on a farm near Fishersville, VA.  He remembers an untroubled life there with his parents and older brother,  interrupted at least once by an unfortunate accident: he ran headlong  into a glass door and portions of the shattered glass were embedded in his head.  It was impossible to remove all of it, and through the years, from time to time, parts of that shattered glass has worked itself to the surface.

At age nine his family moved to town where his father began work in the insurance industry. There through both grammar school and high school, he attended with the almost the identical group of eighteen girls and nine boys.  He and his family attended the old and renowned Tinkling Springs Presbyterian Church where he enjoyed the church’s youth group, which included young adults and even some teachers from his public school. He remembers one special friend with whom they used the Morse code to communicate from their rooftops.

While in high school he passed an examination allowing him to enlist in the Navy V 5 pilot training program. Before actually beginning the program, he was allowed to finish his senior year of high school, and then he was transferred over to the V 12a  which still focused on pilot training, but included some college education.  He had not gone through Navy boot training, so after  a year he was sent to Bainbridge, Md. for this basic training,  His main Navy  job turned out to be storekeeper and Shore Patrol while still training as a pilot.  His Navy career ended in 1946 as the war was over and pilots were no longer in great demand.

One experience on leaving the Navy demonstrates Jim’s unwillingness to give in too quickly to challenges. He was in Camp Wallace, Texas, a long way from his home in Virginia when he was discharged, and as he was low on funds, he decided to go back to one of his old favorite pastimes from high school; he decided to hitch-hike home.  He caught a ride with a truck driver, and it was not long before the driver picked up a man going home from the Army. The driver stopped and asked the two ex-servicemen to check the tires on his truck. When they returned, the driver had passed out because of drinking. Jim and the ex-soldier were afraid they would be held responsible for his condition  so they stopped a truck to ask its driver to verify their innocence if it was required.  After two days on the road, he made it back to his home in Virginia.

Jim recalls one humorous experience in the Navy in which many people would see little humor. On his second training flight the instructor asked him if his seat belt was fastened, and Jim said it was.  The next thing he knew he was hanging upside down by the seat belt in the open cockpit:  the pilot was taking the plane in a slow roll.

Jim says that his experience in the Navy helped prepare him for life by bringing him into contact with people from all over the country and by taking him to many  states and different places over the country.  It broadened his horizon and helped  him understand people who were raised differently than he.

Jim came out of the Navy a more mature person and this maturity showed in his decision to go back to college for an education.  He enrolled at Virginia Tech under the GI Bill and majored in engineering.  On graduating, he obtained a good job with the Asphalt-Paving Company of Roanoke, and was soon promoted to superintendent.  After working there for six years, he changed over to work in the Neilsen Construction Company whose president, Sam Shrum, later became a resident of Sunnyside.

Jim met his wife Emily after returning from the Navy. They were married in 1953 but sadly, she died on May 15, 2007. Jim speaks lovingly of her and her good influence on him during their long marriage of 45 years.  Together they produced four children, all of whom are well adjusted citizens living in various parts of the country.  He gives credit to the great and mighty God whom he worships for having led him throughout his life, and is thankful for the blessings God bestowed on him.

We want to thank him not only for his willingness to serve our nation in time of need, but also for the Christian life he has led, and the example he has set for us all.

As told to Dick Young