MEET OUR VETERANS:
James Golden: USMC – Edom, Texas
James Golden was born on August 21st, 1933 in Tenaha, Texas. He had one brother, Junior Leon, who is deceased. Junior was in the Army for twenty-two years and died of cancer due to Agent Orange exposure. He was stationed in Korea twice and in Vietnam. “We were very close growing up and went into the military about the same time,” said James at our meeting in Ben Wheeler.
“We saw each other in Korea when was on the East Coast and hitchhiked over to the West Coast to see me,” said James. “It was a nice reunion.”
“My dad was killed, when he was 33-years old, in an oil field accident in Odessa, Texas. My mother was working at the Hospital in Tyler. She grew up in a family that picked cotton out in West Texas every year. They picked cotton until they turned bolls. Back then cotton had to have frost to kill the leaves and they stripped it. When daddy passed away momma still kept us. A lot of people would have given us up for adoption. I loved my mother and she looked after me and she made me mind. She whipped us good when we needed it,” he laughed.
After his father passed away his mother remarried and they moved to Edom where the family grew vegetables on a 140-acre farm. “When I grew up as a kid we didn’t go hungry but a lot of nights I could have eaten some more,” he said remembering his early childhood days.
“We farmed peas, corn, watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes you name it. Our family put up sweet potatoes, Irish Potatoes and we had five cows. We didn’t have much money and ate most of what we farmed. I worked, went to school and played several sports until I left home at 17 to join the military.
I went to school in Edom and two years in Van where I played basketball and baseball. I was the point guard on the basketball team and we went to the State Tournament my senior year at Van. We lost to Brenham in the State Championship. They gave us a lesson in round ball,” he laughed.
“I had a basketball scholarship at the University of Corpus Christi. Room, board, books and tuition and $10 a month. I didn’t have any money to get there nor did my family, so I joined the Marines. The Marine Corps said they would feed me, house me and clothe me. I thought it was a pretty good bargain at that time,” smiled James.
“James is a quality individual,” said Greg Evans a friend and former Navy Corpsman. “He will take the shirt off his back for you. He is always offering some advice. He is a frugal person who started with nothing and had to work in the cafeteria just to pay for his lunch going to school.”
VOLUNTEERED FOR THE MARINES
“I volunteered to join the United States Marine Corps. I was 17 years old and my mother had to sign for me. She cried, but she signed. I had an uncle in the Marines and I just always wanted to be a Marine. My Basketball Coach told me all they do is kill Marines. Well, I said I am going to be a Marine. I hope they don’t do that to me. I enjoyed the Marines, it was good for me and made a man out of me. You grow up pretty quick in the Marine Corp,” he laughed.
“I went to San Diego for Book Camp in 1951. I was at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California. It was really tough for people who came from the city. I grew up shooting a 12-gauge shotgun. Those boys from the city had never shot an M1 rifle. With all the sports I played I was physically fit when I joined the Corps. Boot Camp was demeaning to you. Main thing is you didn’t want to get put back in to another Platoon. You would be a stranger there and a screw up to start with. I wanted to get out of there as quick as I could. They treated me pretty mean back in those days, they don’t treat you that way today. After Boot I went to Infantry training and then to my MOS schools.”
BECOMNG AN AMPHIBIOUS TRACTOR MECHANIC
“My MOS was 1871, Amphibious Tractor Mechanic. I went to two different schools for Tractor Mechanic, basic and advanced. Both schools were at Oceanside, California, a place called Camp Del Mar. At the time the Amphibious Transporters I worked on were called the Model T with the open top and the 3C was the covered top transporters. They were powered by twin 1941 Cadillac V-8 gasoline engines. I worked on the PX-2. That was powered by two Chrysler engines. We took the troops in and dropped them off. We also used the Landing Ship Tanks (LST) and Landing Ship Docks (LSD) with the big ramps in the front. I was a mechanic and I worked on all these vehicles. I also did some welding jobs on the side,” said James.
“While I was stationed in Oceanside, California I had an opportunity to buy a 1931 Model A Ford. I got the car for a great price. The person who sold it to me did not want to ship it across country. I drove all over town with the top down. I wish I still had that car today.
After my schools were over I was headed to Korea.”
“I went to Korea in 1952, and had just turned 19 years old. We landed in Inchon, Korea on the west coast. I was an old country boy and that was a long trip over. We had to stand inspection a lot. Back then a half a dollar was made of silver. We had a lot of time on our hands going overseas so we took these silver dollars and a spoon and made silver rings out of them. You could hear Marines tapping all over the deck. There were no spoons to eat with in the mess hall, we got em all, he laughed.
We were on ship, called the John Pope (AP110), for 21 days and had a bad storm in the Pacific. On a troop ship you sleep about eight racks high. Two thirds of the guys got sea sick, vomiting all over the place. I never got sea sick. I had a couple of buddies who we all worked in dry storage. A lot of cookies and crackers and fruit there. We stayed away from the greasy mess hall. Five-thousand men on that troop ship,” recalled James.
“When you go into Inchon the tide is thirty-two feet high. We got there at about two o’clock in the morning. You have to land the ship when the tide is in. When the tide is out there is just a big mud hole. I was up on the Hahn River and the tide would come in and when it went out it would leave mud flats. Neither us nor the Koreans could get across the river. We shot 120mm mortars back and forth at each other. We dug bunkers four feet in the ground. We used the dirt to fill the sand bags. We had a zig-zag door to come in. If a mortar hit in the door it wouldn’t come in on us,” he laughed.
“We had this big Platoon Sergeant come in and tell us about the thousands of North Koreans that were just ahead of us. I had read stories in High School about the North Koreans coming in with knives and cutting the tents and coming in and getting you. They put us in a tent and I didn’t sleep a wink. I was scared. There was a boy named Hartzell and I heard someone moving along the tent. I said, who is that? No answer. I grabbed my sidearm and looked out and the old boy was walking in his sleep. I almost shot em. I woke em up and said you go get in your rack and don’t get up till daylight,” James said shaking his head.
“I remember we got real eggs on Sunday morning. Every other morning, they were powdered eggs, powdered milk and dehydrated potatoes. It was like eating pea gravel. No, I don’t like powdered milk,” he emphatically stated and frowned at the thought.
“We had troop amphibious carrier and armored vehicles where I was stationed a little North of Inchon. It had a 75 Howitzer on it and it is for indirect fire. They looked like a tank. Usually you had a guy in a plane or a forward observer with his field glasses to tell us where to shoot. I kept our vehicles in pits with camouflage over them. We had a tank retriever and if one of the carriers or armored broke down in the field they would bring them in and we would work on them. The rice paddies were tough over there. If you got off in one of those you got stuck pretty bad,” he said.
“We were in a combat zone all the time in Korea. The 5th and 7th Marines were infantry. The 01’s are the grunts you want to avoid in the Marine Corps. That was where the hand to hand combat was going on.
I got a 20mm mortar hit by me when I was out on the front lines one time. I never got into real close combat, fortunately. We always dug into the backside of a hill and made it difficult for the mortars to hit us directly. We were more of a support unit for the transport trucks,” recalled James.
“We eventually moved up to the Kimpo Peninsular. I was in Baker Company and had about a hundred Marines in camp.
When I got there, they had too many mechanics. I drove a Dodge personal carrier. I would go get supplies or take people around. This is when I took our company commander around. No R&R for us,” he said.
“There is a river that runs thru this town we were in and the tide runs in there. We lost a couple of boys who decided they wanted to go duck hunting. “DUCK HUNTING IN KOREA?” I asked. Yea, everybody hunts. I got a picture of my Lieutenant who killed a pheasant over there,” James said.
“I was in Korea for 13 months. I enjoyed the Marine Corps, it was good for me. I really enjoyed the kids in Korea. I wrote a story in the Tyler paper about a time I spent my first Christmas away from home. That year in Korea I gave them all the stuff I got for Christmas including candy and gloves to the kids.
MY BEST CHRISTMAS LETTER
I was a nineteen-year-old marine in 1952, fighting a war in Korea. “Blue Christmas” and “White Christmas” were the songs that were appropriate, not “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Being half a world away from home did not contribute to a very Merry Christmas, but this was the setting. “My first Christmas away from home must have some meaning,” this I told myself.
I celebrated by taking everything that I had received from home – cookies, candy, gifts, and anything else I could find, and made my way out of the barbed wire compound that we marines defended. As usual, there was a dozen or so orphan boys and girls waiting outside. The children gathered around me in the snow and I gave away “everything” that I had received for Christmas. The children ate cookies and candy, and wore a cap, gloves, or a scarf that had come all the way from Texas. I can’t remember such laughter from anyone, especially from children who had practically nothing.
Some forty years ago on a snowy day, I learned that the true meaning of Christmas was sharing with the less fortunate, and it’s not what you get, but what you give.
May the love of Christ abide in your life and may you share it with others throughout the years.
James L. Golden. 1991
“I learned what Christmas was all about. To give everything you got to someone else. The little kids could speak English, the older folks couldn’t,” James said with a large smile on his face.
“I have a funny story when we were in Kobe Japan on R&R. I have always been a Christian man. A Japanese guy came up to me and I thought he wanted a friend and me to go to church with him. We were getting ready to go to Korea so I thought it was a good time to go to church. My buddy said, you sure you want to go and I said yeah. A few miles later my friend asked me, “James do you know where we are going?” I am going to church. He said “man, you are going to a whore house,” and we both laughed out loud on that story. “I did not know or understand their language and we quickly turned around.”
“I learned to take pride in the Marines and to take pride in my country. I take pride in my flag like Trump does. I learned to follow instructions and do what I was told. I did not resent authority. My mother always told me to behave and do what you were told.”
“I have known James for 32 years, he is a good man,” said his friend David Ramsey over the phone. “We have hunted all over the state of Texas. He would tell you that God is first, family is second and the Marine Corps is third. He has always stood firm on being a Marine, he was definitely proud to be a Marine.”
“Being a Marine veteran helped me when I became a school teacher and an administrator,” said James. “I always kept a paddle in my room, the one with the holes in it. It was used for attitude adjustments.”
“Let me say this, “said his former student, Shelby Davidson, at Van High School. “He was firm, he was fair and he was consistent. He had rules and he enforced the rules on everybody and there were no exceptions. I received swats from him for leaning back in my chair. That was one of his rules. “He said, you look a little bit comfortable leaning back in that chair.” I said, oh I forgot, leaning back onto the floor. “Well I am going to give you something so you won’t forgot my rules.” I got my rear end busted a couple of times. I didn’t lean back in my chair after that.”
Another friend, Ed Darragh, remembered, “I was the Grade School Principal and he was a teacher in Van and later an administrator there. James was a truly outstanding speaker. He was an excellent disciplinarian as both a teacher and administrator. He taught speech and debate. James Golden was also a terrific debater himself. He was one of the hardest workers I have ever known in my 84 years. Another one of his famous sayings was “Keep your tail up and your head down,” recalled Ed.
COMING BACK TO AMERICA
“I spent five years in the Marines and made Staff Sergeant. I came back to San Francisco and got a plane as soon as I could heading to Texas. We moved back to Van Zandt County in 1956. In 1957 I went to Howard Payne University in Brownwood. I got a BA degree with a double major in History and English. I received my Masters’ at Hardin Simmons in Administrative Education with a minor in History and English. They wanted me to be an Assistant Principal but instead I drove a school bus and taught speech and drama classes. Those paid more than the Assistant Principal. I eventually went to Golden Texas near Alba. I stayed at Alba Golden ISD for three years,” recalled James.
“His famous quote was, it isn’t funny if we are not all laughing,” said Greg. “We worked on the schoolboard in Van and I was the Assistant Principal of the Junior High. I have known James Golden for about 15 years. I was a Navy Corpsman serving with the Marine Infantry in Iraq in 2004 and 05. We have that in common. We dove and deer hunt a lot together. when I came back from Iraq he was always there for me. No matter where I am at he will always be there for me,” Greg told me in our phone conversation.
Eventually James moved back to his farm in Edom. There he raised calves, catfish and dogs. He also raised garden products and sold them at the Farmers Market in Tyler. James also welded most of his life and did some welding jobs on the side. “I was making more money welding than I did teaching school,” recalled James.
Ed Darragh recalled a story about a rear end weedier. “That is an old truck rear end that someone has taken off and put blades on it,” he said. “I told James I needed some work done on my weedier. He was so busy at the time. He said, “Ed can you meet me at my place at midnight?” I said, I would be there. “He did the job and finished it after midnight. He even made me pay for it,” Ed said laughing.
“I am an ordained Baptist Preacher,” said James. “I started when I was pretty young. I have always pastored at small churches who couldn’t afford a full-time person. I stayed over a year preaching in Ben Wheeler. I was the preacher at First Baptist Church in Paint Rock where I Baptized people in the Concho River. I also preached in Long and Chandler Texas. I welded on Saturdays, preached on Sundays and taught school the rest of the week,” he said.
“A couple of years ago he called be aside and gave me all of his old sermon outlines,” said his fellow pastor Shelby Davidson. “Some of them were from the 1950’s when he first started preaching. In the last few weeks he gave me his minister’s handbook that he always used in funerals, weddings and ordinations. It has duct tape on the back of it. That really means something to me,” he said.
“I don’t know how many funerals and weddings I have performed,” said James. If someone came by and wanted to get married, I married them.
I am a Marine and very sentimental about things. I have always had a dog. I had a dog I named BO in Korea. One night I was walking guard, and I had that puppy in my field jacket. The lieutenant was checking post one night and I yelled, who goes there and pitched my puppy in the bushes. He was just warm inside my coat. I have had several dogs I named BOZO. I nickname them BO. It is easy to spell, I guess.”
“He is a tremendous speaker,” Ed continued. “As a lay speaker, there are none better in Van Zandt County. He has always been highly regarded and has performed a number of weddings and has preached at many funerals. James Golden is one of a kind.”
I never smoked and drank a beer occasionally. I have been a hard worker all my life.
“James is about thirty years older than most of us hunters who have hunted with him over the years,” said his friend David. “He was like a second father to all of us. He always had a hard work ethic. Even at his age he would always work harder than we would. Whether we were putting up a tent or cutting down trees he always out worked us no matter what the job. He sometimes thought we were his recruits, he always kept us hopping” laughed Dave.
“I am not young anymore,” said James looking away in the far distance and pausing. “I have had about 12 surgeries in my lifetime. I have had by-pass surgery, kidney and gall bladder surgery, knees replaced, corporal tunnel, you name it, I have had a few of them. My back still hurts from an accident I had back in December. I am not complaining, I have been blessed,” he said.
“He would always make the comment, “This ain’t the hill we are going to die on,” said Dave. “Anytime something came up like a flat tire or things weren’t going right, that was his go to phrase. He always looked for the good in everything he did. To him it was just not that big of a deal.”
“My wife, Kit and I have been married 37 years. All of our kids are college graduates, most of them with a Masters. I am a hoarder of stuff, have collected all my life. I am in the process of cleaning out my big storage buildings. Just can’t do the things I used to be able to do,” James said.
“He is one of my very best friends, said Shelby. “He is quite a character.”
Thank you James Golden, USMC, for your service to our country.
NOTE: Meet other Veterans from Van Zandt County by going to the top of this page and click on MEET OUR VETERANS and click one of the (5) branches of services and the veterans last name first and click to read.
“Every Veteran has a story to tell.” Phil Smith
GOD BLESS OUR VETERANS AND GOD BLESS AMERICA
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