Local veteran advises – “Have faith in God . . . Do something for your country”

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Local Veteran James “Jim” Haning at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington , DC. Haning found his friend dead in their tent one night. It tormented Haning that he wasn’t there for his friend. When he was able to touch his name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, his torment was gone.

by Vickie Creamer

James “Jim” Haning dreamed of being a soldier since the tender age of five. His family lived on a farm in Oklahoma and Haning had already left home when he lied about his age in order to get into the Army at 17. He has three older sisters, one older brother who joined the Air Force and one younger brother who joined the Air Force. Haning served our country 23 years, 6 months, and 28 days. He is now 86 years old. His beloved wife passed in July, 2013.

Haning was sent to the Philippines in 1950 where he served as a telephone equipment repairman. About three and a half years later, he was assigned to the Air Force on temporary duty because they needed more support.

After being sent back to the Army to attend a school for training to repair medical equipment, he was in Japan at the start of the Korean War. Haning remembered being told, “if you are breathing, the Army needs you!” It was here that he inspected MASH Medical Units, loaded them onto a ship, and sent them to Korea.

After Japan he did a stint in the Philippines, and then he was rotated back to the US and was assigned to the Donaldson Air Force Base.

While at the Donaldson Air Force Base, he and one of his friends decided to get away for a while and drove to Williamston to enjoy a meal. They ate at Smith’s Drive In which is now known as Kenny’s Restaurant. It was there that he met Betty Jean Owens. He looked at his friend and said, “I’m going to marry that girl.” His friend jokingly told him he should get to know her better first. Haning and Owens dated for two weeks. Haning knew he was going to be reassigned, and he remembers thinking, “I can’t take a chance on leaving her here, or I may never see her again.” He asked her to marry him. They sought her parents approval, and were married after dating only two weeks. Their first born daughter, Wanda, was born while stationed at Donaldson AF Base.

Haning was reassigned to Valdosta, GA. Because he only got paid once a month, he did not have enough money to carry his new family with him. They stayed with Betty Jean’s mother and stepdad. Her birth father had been gassed during WWI and died when she was young. Haning drove home every weekend possible to spend a few hours with his wife, and then he would drive back to Georgia. It was a little more than a month before he got a check and was able to move his wife and child with him. They spent a year in Georgia then he was transferred to Montgomery, Alabama.

In 1954, Haning was sent back to Japan to an Army Medical Depo. Again, his wife and child had to stay with her parents for approximately three months until he could settle and find a place to live. Haning recalled that a phone call home would cost $1 per minute. They spent three years in Japan. During this time, their second child, a son (Jim, Jr.) was born in 1955. Their third child, Doug, was born in 1961 while in Harlingen, Texas. Their fourth child, Donna, was born in 1963 at the Ramey AF Base in Puerto Rico where they lived for three years. Their fifth child, Daysa, was born in 1965 in Austin, Texas.

In 1967 they lived in Clovis, New Mexico, and in 1968 Haning was sent to Vietnam while his family moved back to Williamston for a year.

It was during this time that Haning was fearful for his life. He did not know if he would make it home. He remembers praying one night and God spoke to him and told him not to fear. He would be coming home alive.

Haning and his wife made a reel to reel tape for each other EVERY day during his stay in Vietnam. Their son, Jim Jr., remembers every day his mother gathering all the kids around the kitchen table to “talk” to Daddy. After school, she would gather them again to “tell Daddy about their day”. This kept the closeness in their marriage. Their son remembers his Mother playing a tape that came in the mail from their Dad. They could sometimes hear gunfire in the background. He would often see a tear escape down his mother’s cheek, but she always brushed it aside pretending something was in her eye. She was always strong in front of the kids. She never wanted them to worry although she knew her beloved was in harm’s way.

Once one of her tapes never made it to Haning. The plane that was carrying the mail crashed. Her tape was returned to her and the box was charred. She was terrified. She thought something had happened to her husband. It wasn’t until she saw on the outside of the box the message “Recovered mail from crash” that she was able to be consoled.

Haning commented that he has no regrets of serving his country. In fact, if he were physically able, he would do it all over again. When asked what means the most to him now that he is a retired Vet, he replied, “The most rewarding thing to an aged, feeble war Veteran is to have a young person shake your hand or hug your neck and say Thank You for your service.” And finally, when asked if he had any words of wisdom to share with today’s generation of young people, he said, “Have faith in God and do something for your country”. Well said.

“Thank you, Master Sergeant James Haning for your service. We appreciate you.”