“When I came home, we drove out of Wichita and when I came over the hill and saw the White Eagle Refinery flame burning, I broke down and cried like a baby. When I saw that flame, I knew I was home.”
- Jim Linder
Juniors in high school face a lot of tough choices, but few of them face the decision Jim Linder did in 1944.
Linder's love for America created a desire to serve in the armed forces to help defend his country during World War II. At 85, he still remembers his parents making him promise to finish high school after his service to his country ended.
With that parental permission in hand, Linder joined the Navy 10 days after his seventeenth birthday. After boot camp in Idaho, the teenager became the youngest of more than 400 sailors on the U.S.S. Bottineau.
The Bottineau was an amphibious vehicle used by the Navy to transport Marines and the equipment needed for invasions to beaches in the South Pacific.
Linder said that during his time on the ship, they were instrumental in invasions in the Philippines and Japan.
They often supported cruisers, destroyers and battleships to protect them from attacks and the Bottineau made a great target for the enemy as their operations often led them onto enemy territory.
"You always wondered if you were going to survive," Linder said. "But the only thing that really scared me was not being able to perform my duties. Thanks to our training, that never happened."
Linder still bears the scars from almost two years in active duty in the Navy. His position on the ship put him right behind the gun turrets. He wasn't able to wear earplugs because he had to communicate with others on the ship to set the range and bearing for the men controlling the weapons. Several times, his earphones were caked with blood after his eardrums were blown out because of his proximity to the large artillery being fired.
Linder also lost a fingertip to a work accident on the ship.
But you won't hear him complaining about his service.
"Serving your country is the greatest honor in the world," Linder said. "I didn't realize how much I loved my country until I got to serve."
Linder said seeing the living conditions in other countries made him appreciate America.
"Japanese men would fight over the scraps that we threw away after meals in order to feed their families," Linder said. "I will never forget that."
Linder will also never forget a couple of lessons learned on the ship. He said the Captain was guarded constantly. One day when it was his turn to guard the captain, the executive officer approached and asked for permission to speak with the captain. Linder followed the ship's custom of not saluting in the afternoon as most of the formalities had been completed in the morning.
The executive officer was not pleased with his decision.
"After he spoke to the captain, he told me I would be giving him 500 formal salutes as punishment for not showing him the proper respect," Linder said. "The captain turned around in his chair and pulled his pipe out of his mouth and told the executive officer 'And you will answer every one of them.'"
He said the two stood there and exchanged 500 salutes before returning to their regular duties.
Linder also remembers an event when he was responsible for taking a smaller vessel and providing a smoke screen for a cruiser. After he had tethered his boat to the cruiser, a plane attacked them.
"The cruiser took off and pulled the line so tight that I couldn't get it loose," Linder said. "I had to cut my boat free. I still have that knife."
He said most people involved in the incident assumed his boat had been swamped when the larger vessel sped away. It would have been if the young man hadn't been quick with his knife.
The U.S.S. Bottineau was constantly under fire because of the work it did. Linder said he remembered several close calls with mines and torpedoes and the hull was often rattled with enemy gunfire that did very little damage.
That's one of the main reasons Linder was so happy when hostilities ended.
"It was a wonderful feeling knowing that they wouldn't be shooting at us anymore," he said.
The U.S.S. Bottineau was preparing for another assault on Japan in just three days when the second atomic bomb rocked the country and essentially brought the war to an end.
Linder said the Bottineau was too far from shore to see the bomb explode but within days they were ashore and observed railroad ties and rocks melted together and the incredible devastation the bomb did to its target.
After the war ended, Linder's service did as well. He returned to his hometown and he finished that diploma just like he promised. Returning home was one of the happiest moments of his life.
"When I came home, we drove out of Wichita and when I came over the hill and saw the White Eagle Refinery flame burning, I broke down and cried like a baby," Linder said. "When I saw that flame, I knew I was home."
Linder worked in that refinery and in the oilfield for about a decade after he graduated from Augusta High School. He also spent a short time as a licensed plumber before he spent the last 25 years before he retired as a rural postal carrier.
He had three children. His oldest son suffered from muscular dystrophy and died when he was 40 years old.
He also has a daughter who teaches school in Mulvane and a son who works for Westar and lives in Towanda.
Linder said he has enjoyed a good life in and around Augusta and will always value his service to his country.
"It was the best way I could show my appreciation for being an American," he said.