My Story as a Vet – by Jim and Chloie Jan Wells

What is a Veteran?

A “veteran” –whether active duty, discharged, retired or reserve—is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America”, for an amount of “Up to, and including his life.”

That is honor.

Jim:                       I am honored to be asked to speak about veterans and share my story of serving in the US Army. How many of you have a veteran in your life? A father, husband, brother, friend?

Chloie:                 Jim as you all know is a quiet man of few words.  That was never more true than December 2, 1969 when The Selective Service conducted its first draft lottery since 1942.

I was in the dorm at Texas Tech along with many other girls sitting by the radio listening to the numbers being called for the draft. We were anxiously awaiting the numbers for our boyfriends and brothers, knowing that men we loved could possibly be drafted to serve and end up in Viet Nam.

The first third of the 366 numbers drawn would be drafted; the second third would be possibly drafted; and the bottom third would not be called to serve.

The unthinkable happened when my former college roommate’s husband was number 1—September 14!  I could hardly breathe until at last Jim’s number was called—April 2—number 271.  He was in the bottom third—he would not be called to serve.

Little did I know that he had already decided at some point that he was going to enlist when he graduated from Texas Tech.

Jim:                       Being part of the military was something I just knew I would always do. My granddad Hale served in France in WW I, my dad and many of his relatives and friends served in WW II and Korea. It just seemed like the natural thing to do with my life—sign up and serve.

Chloie:                 I could not wait to talk to Jim the next day to celebrate his lottery number. But when we met on Tuesday morning as I was all smiles and so thankful that he was safe from the draft, he told me he was going to enlist!. I tried to explain to him that he did not have to sign up—his number was in the bottom third—he was safe from the possibility of going to war.

Remember I said Jim was and is a man of few words…he had never mentioned to me that enlisting was part of his future and we were even talking about getting married. But Jim’s few words carry a lot of weight. He said to me, “It’s something I’ve got to do. It’s my duty to serve.” And so it began…
 

James Tom Wells, 1st Lt. in Military Intelligence, U.S. Army

 
Jim:                       February 1970—My parents took me to Amarillo for induction and I was sent to Ft Leonard Wood, Missouri for basic training.  When I left Amarillo it was 50 degrees out and I was wearing my Levis and boots. When I arrived at Ft. Leonard Wood, the snow was a foot deep and it was the coldest I’d ever been.

Most of the guys in my unit were city boys from Chicago and Peoria, Illinois. And most were high school graduates or drop outs who had been drafted.  I got to call home occasionally on Sunday afternoons.  Phone calls were few and far between and only lasted a few minutes. So letters were the main way my family heard from me.

In early May 1970 I got my orders to report to Ft Benning, Georgia on June 6 for Officer Candidate School. I called Chloie and said let’s get married when I get home.

Chloie:                 The army does not give much information and certainly not in a timely way. Jim could not get a specific date for when he could come home so setting a date for our wedding was difficult. We decided to get married on Wednesday, May 27, hoping that would work.

He got home on Saturday, May 23. We got our license on Monday and had a wedding shower that evening.  The rehearsal dinner was on Tuesday, and we got married on Wednesday. We left for our honeymoon to San Antonio and Dallas, and were gone for 9 days. We came back so I could start summer school at Tech and he left 2 days later for OCS.

I did not see him again until the end of August.
 

Bridal shower held at Madeline Hegi’s home, May 25, 1970

 
Jim:                       OCS was a highly pressurized situation for 22 weeks. I had different leadership positions that changed every 3 days. We were either in the classroom discussing infantry, armor, and artillery tactics, or in the field where we practiced map reading, leadership strategies and marksmanship.

Chloie:                 Mother, Daddy and Ruth (Jim’s mother) helped me move to Georgia in August 1970 after I graduated from Tech, bringing enough of our wedding gifts to set up housekeeping.

Family members were allowed to visit their candidates on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and we happened to arrive on a visitation day.  So that evening I went to an OCS wives meeting where I learned about the rules I was to follow. These rules were very strict and were strictly enforced. Public displays of affection, traffic violations, or any other inappropriate behavior could result in having our soldiers dismissed from OCS.

I had not seen Jim since early June and needless to say, I was so excited. However, the public display of affection rule also applied at our visitation times. Wives were not allowed to touch their husbands AT ALL. Mother and Ruth hugged Jim and Daddy shook his hand while I just stood there smiling sweetly.

Jim:                       Chloie arrived at the 12thweek mark when we were intermediate candidates and we celebrated with a banquet and dance at a hotel in Columbus, Georgia. 

Chloie:                 The 12th week party was a special event marking the first time the candidates had been off post and had the chance to celebrate with their wives or girlfriends. I wore a semi-formal dress that Ruth made for me.  We also had to wear gloves to go through the receiving line to meet the field grade officers and their wives. Some girls did not have gloves so we would take ours off after going through the line and send them to the back of the line for those who didn’t have any.

I just want you to know that as a girl from a small town in Texas, I knew more about good manners and hospitality than most of the wives from large cities. I have Mother, Bettye Green, Madeline Hegi and the School of Home Economics at Texas Tech to thank for that, as well as all the ladies of Tahoka who set such a good example for me. As military wives, we were involved in all kinds of teas and balls and I never felt inadequate to handle a social situation.

Jim still had to live in the barracks at that time. My apartment wasn’t ready for about 10 days so I lived with Monty McGinty and her son during that time. Her husband was in the class ahead of Jim so it was good to have a face from home so nearby. Fred and Mable, Monty’s parents, came for a visit, bringing me gifts from home and taking me sightseeing with them.

After the 12th week party, the candidates were able to come home on most weekends unless someone messed up, but the wives would not know that until we went to pick up our husbands at noon on Saturday.  On several occasions, the XO would come out and say, “Go on home ladies. Your men won’t be coming home today.” We would sadly drive back to town and have a slumber party.

On the weekends when Jim was at home, I would cook a big breakfast on Monday morning and have him back on post by 5:30 a.m. The first time I dropped him off, there was a sign that said “No left turn between the hours of 0600 and 1800”. I had no idea what that meant so I would not turn left for fear I would get a traffic ticket. I made many right turns before I was able to find my way off post. I was terrified of breaking one of those rules.

Jim:                       At the 18thweek mark, we became senior candidates which signified that the hardest part of our training was over. At that point we were choosing which branch of the army we wanted to be in. The top six candidates got to choose infantry if they wanted it. I chose the oxymoron unit—army intelligence– and received orders for Ft. Holabird, Maryland.

The 18th week party was a huge formal event and a real celebration. From that point until graduation, the candidates were able to leave post in the afternoon and spend the night at home.

Chloie:                 About the 20th week, Jim had to go on bivouac for a week. We decided that I should go see Jim and Andra Solomon in Columbus, Mississippi where they were stationed. I went to the bank on post to get some cash to buy my bus ticket and headed into Columbus. In my excitement, I failed to notice a school zone and was pulled over for speeding. We had a Ft Benning sticker on our car so I knew the policeman would know we were military. I was absolutely sick. I went straight to city hall to pay cash for my ticket. I did not want to write a check and leave any kind of paper trail that could trace me back to Jim.  I then had to drive back to post to get more cash for my bus ticket.

When I told my girlfriends what had happened they were equally horrified for me so I was sure Jim was going to get kicked out of OCS. All I could think of was how disappointed George Claud (Jim’s dad) was going to be if Jim was dismissed. And the fact that I couldn’t tell Jim right away what I had done made it even worse.

The next day I left on the bus for Mississippi. I sat right behind the driver the whole way with my nose buried in my book. We had a long layover in the downtown Birmingham bus station which in 1970 was quite an experience for a young Texas girl.

When I told Jim Solomon what I had done, he died laughing and assured me Jim would not get kicked out of OCS. I couldn’t relax until my Jim got back and I could tell him what I had done.  We wives took those rules very seriously.

Jim:                       The last week of my training I was privileged to raise and lower the post flag every day. That was a great honor for me. Traffic stops on military posts and soldiers stand at attention at these two times every day.

You may not know that at movie theaters on post before the feature begins, the Star Spangled Banner is played and the audience stands in salute to the flag.

Another great honor for me while in OCS was leading my platoon as we passed in review for graduation before the base commander.

Patriotism is alive and well on our military bases throughout the world. Soldiers respect the service of veterans that served before them and want to continue the honorable standards they lived by.

We formed many friendships at OCS and still hear from one good friend every year on November 19, our graduation day. Some of the guys in my company went on to lose their lives in Viet Nam and others still suffer from wounds, malaria and the effects of Agent Orange.

As a 2nd Lt., we left Columbus, Georgia the next day with everything we owned in our car or on top of it! What an adventure to tell our parents and friends goodbye and drive up the east coast to Maryland.

Chloie:                 For the first time since May 27, we lived together every day. Being assigned to Ft Holabird in Baltimore, Maryland afforded us the wonderful opportunity to live just 20 miles from Washington, DC, as well as in the heart of so much early history of our country. We visited the Capitol several times, toured Williamsburg, Gettysburg, Ft McHenry, and even spent a weekend in New York City.

Jim:                       Ft Holabird was a small post, with a chain length fence around it. It was in the heart of the industrial district of Baltimore. I was adjutant to the deputy commander of the intelligence agency. 

In February 1971, we learned that Ft Holabird would be closed and the intelligence unit would be relocated in Ft Huachuca, Arizona. Of interest is that Watergate prisoners were sent to Ft Holabird to serve their sentences.

June 1971 found us heading west and ready for another adventure. Ft Huachuca is located south of Tucson very near the Mexican border. It is at the base of beautiful mountains and was a great assignment for us. My Aunt Barbara and Uncle Sarge lived about 50 miles from us and we visited Tombstone, Bisbee, and Nogales, Mexico. We made so many good friends there and again were able to travel and enjoy that part of the country.

I was very fortunate with the assignments I was given and being honorably discharged as a 1st lieutenant. Chloie and I grew up being away from parents and family.
 

Col. Peterson and Chloie Jan pinning on 1st Lt Bar, November 19, 1971

 Jim and Chloie Jan at Mike and Beth Huffaker’s Wedding, June 1971

 Thirty-six years later our son made the decision to enlist in the US Army after he graduated from West Texas. He said joining up was something he felt like he ought to do.

It was with pride that we took him to Amarillo to be inducted and watched him fly away to Ft Knox, Kentucky for basic training. It was a proud day for us and our daughters when we attended his graduation. He was sent to Ft Hood, Texas and six weeks later was deployed to Iraq. In three years he served two tours in Iraq and now serves in the Army Reserve.
 

Matthew’s graduation from Basic Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, February 2009

Jim and Matthew looking at his new rifle hours before departure to Iraq

                        Matthew leaves for his first deployment to Iraq after midnight, May 3, 2009

 Matthew was in Iraq at the time of the Ft Hood shooting. Many of his friends had families living on post and were very worried until they found out they were safe. The soldiers were furious that their friends and loved ones were in that kind of danger on an American military post.

Times have changed from my time in the military to Matthew’s experience. We wrote letters while Matthew emailed and called us on computers. We could communicate with him on Facebook and Skype with him, allowing us to see his face.

 In my era, soldiers were not honored or respected, but thankfully that is not the case today. Viet Nam veterans were spit on when they returned home.  But Desert Storm veterans were welcomed home by ticker tape parades. Matthew has been thanked by strangers and had meals paid for by anonymous Americans.

Chloie:                 I never welcomed Jim home from war but we had that experience with Matthew twice. Both times he returned from Iraq our family was at Ft Hood to welcome him home.

Families gathered at the parade field and were able to watch the soldiers come off the plane on a large TV.  They were hard to identify because they all were wearing shades and caps. Children would crowd to the screen searching for daddy. When we heard a man say, “Look, there’s your mommy,” our hearts were in our throats.

Jim:                       The soldiers boarded a school bus and were driven to the parade field where balloons, flags, music and Welcome Home signs were waiting. The bus parked across the street from the field and the soldiers got off. Over the PA system, the announcer said, “Move that bus!”, and it drove away.  Then we saw our soldiers march in formation onto the parade field where they were commended for their service to their country.

When the soldiers were dismissed, families ran onto the field carrying signs so their soldier could find them. These were two of the most thrilling events of my life!
I love my country and am proud to have served in the military. I am so thankful that our soldiers and veterans are respected and honored today.

Matthew arrives home after his 2nd deployment, Fort Hood, Texas, November 2011

 

 
Chloie:                 Jim was never in harm’s way during his time of service. But he was willing to be. For that, I have the greatest pride and appreciation for him. It was an honor to be a military wife and because of that experience, I was able to wholeheartedly support Matthew’s decision to enlist.

Jim:                       You probably have stories you could tell of the veterans in your lives and I appreciate the opportunity to share my story.  God Bless our Military and God Bless America.
Jim & Chloie Jan give Veterans’ Day talk at Phoebe K. Warner Club, Tahoka, Texas November 10, 2015



 

 

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