James L. Jutson, Jr.: American Hero

Part One

Grady Arnold

arnoldgrady@yahoo.com

I was in second grade in 1951 when I first saw James Jutson; he was working as a body man for the original Brown-Allen Cadillac-Oldsmobile dealership in Bryan, Texas. My Dad had dragged a '34 Ford from an Austin junkyard for the Bryan dealership to restore. 


My dad was the line chief at Bryan Air Force Base. He needed something to escape his job stress.  He was young and a fairly new Master Sergeant and a WWII veteran.  Dad had the junk Ford hauled to the dealership unaware of James at the time.


James was the best body man in Brazos County at the time, but he saw little value in restoring a nearly twenty year old car some guy found upside-down in an Austin junkyard.  After working on the car for a month, James wanted to meet the “crazy” man who wanted the work done.  His boss set up a meeting.


At the dealership after comparing their backgrounds, James decided he liked the sergeant and was often a visitor in our home--smoking, drinking beer, and remembering the war with my Dad.  Dad and James became war buddies.  In the meantime, the old Ford got a Caddy engine and new upholstery.


James had survived WWII as a nineteen year old infantryman in Europe. He survived being wounded five times; his most severe wound resulted in the surgeons replacing a portion of his skull with a metal plate. This caused James continuous pain for the rest of his life.


James was born near Millican where his Dad worked on the railroad for forty years.  James was the first born, and his parents later had daughters.  One sister lived on a street behind my dad’s house for many years.


When James was 18, he got the letter to report for duty in the US Army.  After basic training, James was hurried aboard a troop ship in New York headed for England.


There were many U-boats in the Atlantic at the time, and ships set out in convoys.  His convoy was almost to England when a sub punched a hole in his ship’s side.  James told me about how the ship slowed and listed as it took on water.  Because England was in sight, the other ships kept going.  Then he saw the sailors put down the webbed nets, and soldiers and sailors started climbing down her side into the water.  James too climbed down the webbed ropes and into the water. He joined dozens of soldiers and sailors treading water in their life preservers. Then the sub surfaced, and the Germans came onto the submarine’s deck.  They set up their machine gun and started shooting the helpless men in the water.  James decided the sinking ship looked pretty good at that point.  He crawled back on board.  When the sub ran out of ammunition, he went back in the water.  The Germans spent some time discussing their great victory for a while and then went on their way.


James and the other men floated in the water thinking that, with England in sight, the English would come to rescue them soon.  That never happened.  The men were in the water for several days.  Hunger and dehydration set in.  Sharks ate many all around him.  Finally, another convoy of American troops spotted them and brought them on board.  James spent six weeks in a hospital. When he got to the point that he could "barely stand up," they told him he was going to France.


They were loaded on ships again and then boarded landing craft.  He told me, "When we got to the beach, men were being killed all around me.  A man could literally walk across the beach on dead American bodies without stepping on the sand."   After he survived crossing an exposed stretch of sand, a sergeant ordered, "Dig in."  He dug a shallow hole suspecting it would soon be his grave.  More troops landed and most were slaughtered.  He hugged the wet ground in his salt-water soaked clothes.  James was now 19 years old.


James said after lying there for the remainder of the first day in France, "I remembered the little water-proof container the Army issued to me to carry my matches and cigarettes." He dug around in the sixty  pounds of gear he carried on his back and pulled the box out.  He began to yearn for a smoke in the hole half full of water.  He dug out the match and a cigarette. Thinking the German soldiers had retired for the night, James scratched the match head on the box.  Just as the the tiny flame appeared, every enemy gun on the beach opened up on him.  Needless to say, he put it out quickly.  Welcome to France, Private Jutson.


Part 2


James was in the big breakout across Western France. He often told me about sleeping on the ground in the rain and snow and about being in total darkness next to a French railroad track. The French, I learned later, build up their rail tracks on beds on stones.  James told me he often bedded down listening to the Germans bedding down on the other side of the rail beds.  He said he would yell to the Krauts, "If you are there in the moring, I'm goin' to kill you!"  James told me they invariably fled before the sun came up.


James was caught in the collapse of the front at Bastogne. He told about the chaos and the courageous general who decided to make the gallant stand in Bastogne against the mighty German super tanks.  He spoke of how the  German emissary came to accept the American’s surrender and how the brave general told them, "NUTS!"  James told me about living in the cellars of the homes of Bastogne and only venturing out to service the picket lines on shifts and pick through garbage cans for breakfast.  Then Patton’s prayer was answered: the Army Air Corp was flying, and the third army came into the city the day after Christmas.


James was told by the Army doctors, then later by the VA doctors, because of the wounds he suffered, he only had about six months to live. So, starting in 1944, after the first wounds, he lived his remaining 50 years as if he only had six months left. Along the way, he worked for several auto mechanical and body shops and started and ran over three dozen different businesses. He married six different women and made each a millionaire.


In 1958, Bryan Air Force Base was closing.  I was in the ninth grade at New Diana High School and was the center on the junior varsity football team when Dad got orders to go to Alsace-Lorraine (now Eastern France). The family went with him. While there, in the tenth grade, I attended the new boarding school, Verdun American School, near the Belgian border. Verdun was the site of a gigantic WWI battle. The famous French field marshal Nivelle boasted that, “They shall not pass at Verdun.” We rode a French touring bus from our housing area to Verdun passing thru the ancient city of Metz.


Years later, while James was slowly drinking his cup of whiskey, he  spoke to me about Metz.  He said the tanks the Americans had on the western hills above Metz came to a halt because of a shortage of fuel.  He remembered being sent into the city and to root out the German garrison troops. The Germans fought a token battle and fell back leaving the city behind and a stream of refugees along the roads east.


I remembered our bus stopping at the US Army post in Metz on the way to Verdun on Sunday mornings and on the return trip Friday afternoons. We could get off the bus, eat in the cafeteria, and stretch our legs while general Van Fleet, the US Army garrison commander at the time, brought his two red haired twin daughters to ride the bus with us.  It seemed odd that he would not put them on the Army bus to Verdun. I learned later he made this choice because he thought the Army kids were rough and coarse whereas the Air Force brats were a little more civilized. Our bus carried a male parent chaperone in uniform.


James told me about being pulled out of Metz and moving 100 miles in the middle of the cold European winter of December 1944 and going into the frozen fields east of Bastogne. He said after being relieved by the 3rd Army, his group had to go back and push the Germans out of Metz again.  He said, "The Germans were not so easy to move out the second time. They knew the war was lost after all those tanks were lost at Bastogne. They did not run away. We had to dig them out a few at a time from one end of the city to the other. Few gave up."

Part 3

   

James told me about returning from the war.  His parents and sisters were still living in Millican.  He went over to A&M and got in line to see the VA advisor about going to college.  He said he had thought about a career as a vocational agriculture teacher.  He told me that the longer he sat there waiting in the office, the more nervous he became.  So, finally he got up, walked out, and never went back. He got a job learning to do auto body and mechanical work in Houston.  He learned the business quickly.  Soon he had enough extra money to buy his parents a car. He took the car to Millican and taught his oldest sister to point the car well enough to go down to the store and back.


After our family returned from Phalsbourg in 1961, we stayed with James and his wife while Mother and I cleaned up the College Station house for our future use after Dad’s retirement from the USAF at Marquette, Michigan.   James had a shop in Bryan rebuilding cars.  By now, he could fix anything on a car, and he loved the work.


James and Dad worked together in his shop for a few months.  After I went into the service in '64, we lost track of James for a few years.  I was honorably discharged in January 1968.  Then Dad died of a sudden heart attack in September of  '69.  Later James told me he had divorced his wife, Rebecca’s mother. She had been "spending time" and  James' money on her uncle.  James told me that she was doing the shop books, and he was working 24/7.  He said, "I barely had enough money to pay the house and shop light bills. My wife’s uncle was walking around in these new suits and boots.  When I went to see him, he showed us his new Cadillac and more and more registered cows and bulls he had just brought in.  For a while, I could not figure it all out."


James told me that his ex-wife lived for a time in the office building in front of his double-wide. The big trailer had a porch pad of cement and a little fence around it. It also had a free standing roof to help with the summer heat.  James told me, "Grady Neil, I would be out there pissing over the fence rail at six in the morning, and my ex-wife’s uncle would come sliding in on the gravel driveway in his Cadillac which I had paid for. He would jump out and fire a couple of .32 revolver shots at me standing there pissing. Fortunately, the lead hit the mobile home wall, not me."


James worked for a large body shop in Ft. Worth and slept there at night making a few extra dollars serving as the night watchman.  He told me, "One night I woke after midnight to some noise in the back of the shop.  Then I heard it again after sitting up on the edge of the bunk. Now I was really scared.  I grabbed the big flashlight and the .45 Army series 1911 Colt the boss had left with me. When the group saw my light and heard me coming, they all hit the window they had jimmied open.  All except one really big fat guy who had his ass pointed at me trying to get through the window. I was scared half to death. I filled that big ass full of all the .45 shells in that clip. He flopped around dying on the floor while I called the cops."


Later, in the '70s, James was driving drunk south of Hearne, where he had set up a shop. He told me later, "I hit this pickup head on with four kids in it.  Grady Neil, it really scared me. I prayed every day--sometimes every hour--that those kids would all survive." They all survived and James dealt with the issue and continued on with his life. 


By 1984, Mom and I built a Jim Walter’s 4-bedroom house on four acres we had bought on Highway 6 South.  Don, my brother, had married and was living there.  Don graduated from A&M that year and went off to Maryland to work. The state of Texas was taking the front acre there to expand the highway. We had three cars then.  Mom suggested we call James to store them on his property.  James showed up that weekend and hauled the '65 Olds, '68 Chevy el Camino, and the '62 Volkswagen Carmen Ghia to his shop in Hearne.  I was working at General Dynamics on the F-16 test stations in Ft. Worth.  When we met at his place later, we met his sixth wife and talked about Dad dying.  James said, "I didn't hear about it for a while after the funeral. Then I was too embarrassed to come around."


I would stop on weekends and visit with James on my way back to College Station.  He told me many stories of the war and after a while we drank whiskey and ate supper.  One Saturday night he threw a shop party.  I drove Mom and Grandma up to watch the event.  James even danced with his new wife that night. He was a hoot.


On one of my stops from Ft. Worth to College Station, I made my usual stops to see James and check on the three cars I had there.  By now James had started restoring the '68 el Camino.  We sat in the hot little body shop and drank Ancient Age while Sissy cooked our supper in the double-wide.


James started speaking to me about his memories of long ago 1944.  He said, "I remember when we got to the Rhine. The Huns had stuffed the Remagen bridge supports with dynamite and drug the wires across while their troops and refugees scurried over.  We watched the bastards from the hills above the town. There were two main supports built out of stone at some time in the past.  The Nazis blew the explosives, and the old iron bridge shuddered, and a huge cloud of smoke covered it. We knew Patton wanted that damned bridge to beat Monty across the river.  As the smoke cleared, we sat there on the ground and saw in amazement that the rickety old bridge was still there--standing precariously on the old stone buttresses. We had hopes that the old bridge would fall into the river.  Everyone let out a loud moan at this point.  Now the old man would have us cross this remnant of a bridge, about to collapse, while they shot at us.  In a moment the order from our non-coms went out to cross.  Everyone just sat there.  Then the order went out again--delivered by a scared little officer.  No one moved.  I thought, ‘Was this a mutiny?’  We all just sat there for a long moment wondering what’s next?  Then this vehicle roared up to where we sat.  We all slowly got to our feet.  It was the old man himself.   He stood up straight in the vehicle before it came to a stop and jumped out.  He pointed to a little frightened private and bellowed out, ‘Why the hell aren't you guys on the bridge?’  The little soldier had jumped two feet in the air when the three star spoke to him.  The little soldier stuttered, ‘Gol-ley General, that bridge looks dangerous as Hell, Sir, and we been told all the way up here--be careful who you shoot--respect the locals--don't hit any historic sites--on and on--stuff like that!’ Patton pointed to the bridge and bellowed out to everyone, ‘You can forget all that bullshit.  When you guys get on the other side of that bridge, I want you to kill all the men and (vulgarity) all the women!’  All of us hit that old bridge at a dead run."


While I was at Phalsbourg, my mother had taken me up to Remagen. The old bridge had fallen into the river just after the first groups of Americans had crossed.  When we were there in '58, there was a ferry taking cars across.  The two ancient piers still stood like silent old reminders.


In 1989, James had already lost one lung to smoking.  But he never stopped working on cars.  He would roll around out in the shop in a wheelchair working on a radiator or an old carburetor--breathing oxygen from a welding oxygen bottle.  Of course, he never stopped smoking.  Sissy would take him to the VA hospital with his right hand on the Bible while he gripped his whiskey bottle with the other.


I was waiting on a job at NASA but  Johnson Space Center had not yet opened, and went to Bryan to watch A&M play Houston with Andre Ware when I called James.  He told me, "Come on over and stay here with me for a week."  I asked Sissy, and she said to come over after the game.  So, I grabbed a few things and drove up to Hearne.  The three of us had a great time together that week.  We talked, watched a little TV, ate and drank together.  James knew he was near the end, but he did not seem to be too concerned.


I was the last one outside his family to see James.  Sissy locked the gate after me.  Later she drove him to the VA hospital one last time.  Sissy told me later that he never stopped trying to live.  He never gave up.  He died when his remaining lung filled with fluid.  That was the main thing I liked about him...and my Dad.  They did not know the meaning of the word quit.

enough

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