|Memorial to Jim Talbott
Jim Talbott - Kewanna's loss to Viet Nam
By Shirley Willard
James F. Talbott, Kewanna,
died in Viet Nam in 1969.
James Franklin Talbott died in Viet Nam, Kewanna's only soldier not to return home from that conflict.
We called him Jimmy. I was his teacher 1960-66 at Kewanna School and as class sponsor took them
on their senior trip. I remember him as a very good basketball player - he was often listed among the
top scorers in Loganland. His senior year he had an average of 18.7. I remember his beautiful
handwriting - very important to an English teacher like me. And I called him Diego in Spanish class.
He was not an A student but he was always well behaved and he tried hard. He was well coordinated,
hence the good handwriting and basketball throwing.
How does "the little town with a big heart" recall its fallen hero? They built a Veterans of Foreign Wars
post and named it for him. They did bingo and dinners for fund raising and then volunteers did most
of the construction work. Paul "Bud" Weller suggested the name. Inside are plaques with his picture
and these words:
Cpl James F. Talbott, Co. B 5th/46th Battalion. 198 Brigade. Born July 22, 1948 - Died in Viet Nam
Aug. 6, 1969.
James F. Talbott VFW Post No. 1121 chartered May 18, 1972.
Ladies Aux. chartered Jan. 7, 1973.
I traveled back to Kewanna recently to talk to Jim's mother, Ruth Talbott. Down through the years I have often thought about him, and when we visited
Washington, D.C., in 2005, Bill and I looked up Jimmy's name. As his class sponsor, I guided them in making money for their Senior Trip. Of course, Bill
helped pop the corn for the ball games, and since most of the KHS Class of 66 was boys, he had to do the bed check during the trip to Gettysburg, New
York and D.C. So we have many good memories of that group and Jimmy.
Ruth recalled that Jimmy weighed five pounds and eleven ounces when he was born in the Plymouth hospital. He had a problem with stomach muscles not
closed so food came back up, but he took pills for 15 days and the problem cleared up.
When Jimmy was a youngster, the family lived in Kewanna and Jim delivered the Indianapolis Star.
They moved to the country when Jim was a freshman. Jim worked on nearby farms putting up hay
for Russell Koebcke and others. He liked to be outdoors. They lived on a hill on the Tamarack Road
east of Kewanna.
Jimmy had two younger sisters: Linda and Nancy. Nancy was eight years younger than Jimmy and
they were especially close. He got her a basketball suit and they played together at their outside
hoop. He bought her a BB gun too and taught her to shoot it. Nancy played in the Girls Basketball
team in 1975 but that was after Jim was killed.
After graduating from Kewanna High School, Jim attended Anderson College for one semester but
quit to help at home because his father developed a heart condition. He said he wanted his sisters
to have 12 years of school without having to worry about money. He got a job at Winamac Coil
Springs and gave his pay check to his mother every week.
1966 Loganland Basketball All-Stars
Front from left: Rich Hood, Winamac; John Maudlin, Caston; Steve Norris, Rochester;
Jim Talbott, Kewanna; Al Hendrickson, Frontier. Back row: Norm Newell, Pioneer, Neil Adams,
Logansport: Bruce Zabst, Caston; Tom Zellers, Logansport; Mike Albers, Logansport.
Ruth was a cook at Kewanna school for four years and then worked at Winamac Coil Springs
for 28 years. The factory foreman, Alvin Parrish, said Jim never once went out the driveway
fast, throwing gravel, like so many others of his age did.
Another good report Ruth recalled was from Judd Crabill. He and his wife had just returned
from Florida and were eating in the Kewanna restaurant. Jim was there with his buddies but
he came over to the Crabills and shook hands and said he was glad to see them again.
After graduating from KHS, Jim helped other Kewanna kids by teaching them basketball. One time he talked till midnight in the Kewanna gym to straighten
out a troubled kid.
Jim liked to have a late snack with his friends and his mother would cook for them before she went to bed, making a roast or fried chicken or tacos. Tacos
were new as a food in Indiana then but Jim loved them. Kenny Robbins and Jeff Moore and other class mates would come over to eat and chat with Jim. One
time they ate five dozen tacos!
Someone at work called Jim a 4-F-er because he was classified as 4-F because of his father's heart condition and therefore not eligible for the draft. This
remark made Jim upset and angry. So Jim enlisted and took basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Then he was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. He
came home for Christmas before being sent overseas. The night before he left home to go to Viet Nam, classmate Michele Corbett gave a going- away party
for him at her apartment in Logansport. Attending were Kenny Robbins, Markeeta Conrad and husband Nick Klinefelter, and others. Markeeta was a 1966
classmate too, and had once had a date with Jim. She said he was very shy and wall mannered. She recalled that Jim told them at the party that he was
scared to death about going to Viet Nam.
He was sent to Viet Nam in January, 1969. In April he got a bullet in his leg but
the medics took it out and he was sent back in to fight.
I read all of his letters from Fort Lewis, Washington, and from Viet Nam. In about
the first letter from Nam he wrote that the cookies and nut bread his mother sent
were moldy, the fudge no longer good so please send him canned fruit from on.
Later letters thanked them for sending cans of spaghetti and meat balls, tomato
soup, and Slim Jim jerky. He wrote of rainy nights in the jungle, sleeping in a
poncho on the ground.
On July 5, 1969, he wrote: "We were out in the jungle working for eight days.
Boy, was it ever a bitch out there. We were penned down for three days.
We couldn't even get in supplys. We had three heliocopters shot down.
We had ten guys who got shot in the leg or arm. We had only enough food
to get one meal a day. But we went without food for a three day period.
Also we had new men coming out to join us but three of them got shot.
Once they couldn't land them on the ground. We had three companys working
together. In one of these other companys, we got four GI killed and three wounded."
Jim was counting off the days until they could "stand down" and rest at base camp.
On July 18 he wrote "If you are wondering why this paper is kind of dirty, well its
because of the heat making my hand sweat like hell. Boy, you don't realize how nice
it is back home. When you can lay down and watch TV and go and get a cold glass of milk, a cold soda. Get 3 hot meals a day. And one thing else, when I
get back. That is driving every where you go. So you can see that I don't plan on walking too much when I get back. Well, I am sitting on a hill. It is 7:45 p.m.
just enough light to write for a while. We will spend the night here this hill, then move at 6:00 a.m."
In another letter he mentioned that he was paid $201.00 a month. "When I get home,
I just want to stay in Kewanna. I don't really care about going any place else. There
aint no place like home sweet home." (For historic comparison, a private in the
Korean War was paid $113 a month. In World War II a private was paid $41 plus
$15 overseas pay, plus 10% if in war zone, which would amount to about $60 a
month. Today in the Iraq War a private is paid $1,534 plus $225 a month if in
danger zone, and tax free in a combat area.)
On August 9, 1969, Ruth and Si received a white Bible from Jim as a present
for their 23rd anniversary. They did not know it but he had been killed on August 6.
They got the word the next day August 10. Ruth had gone to the Kewanna
Methodist Church. The Army officer came to their house and Si went with him
to find Ruth at church and tell her. But Ruth went out the other door to go to
her mother, Goldie Hamman's house, so they missed her. The minister Rev.
Leroy Wise went with them and they told her the sad news at her mother's
house. Every day they received a telegram from the government announcing
his death - a yellow taxi delivered it. This continued for several days.
Jim had been in Viet Nam just seven months and was making plans to take
R&R (rest and recreation) in Hawaii in a few days. He was point man on a
patrol and was shot in the head, the bullet entering his forehead and exiting
by the right ear. When the officer came in September to give them Jim's medals, he said they (the Army) had made a mistake, that a man who wore glasses
was not supposed to lead a patrol because light might reflect off his glasses and be a target for the enemy. This made Si very angry and bitter.
The funeral was August 16 at the Kewanna Methodist Church. The casket had a glass top, the same as presidents are buried in. Ruth said they were given
the option to get a different casket but decided to keep him in that one because she did not to disturb him. The government paid the Talbotts $10,000 for
death benefit, and supplied the casket and metal plaque for the tombstone. Talbotts paid for the lot, burial, funeral home and tombstone.
The family was given Jim's billfold and other personal items. Ruth and Si had given him a $2 bill and his grandmother Goldie had given him a silver dollar but
they were both gone. His watch was stopped at 5:20 p.m., the time he was killed. Also among his things was a photo album. Jim told his mother that his best
buddy was a black man named William Shields. His picture was in the album.
The Army chaplain wrote to Ruth and told of counseling Jim several times. Jim said he had been taught not to kill but the chaplain told him that he had to kill
to defend himself.
Ruth and Si were so distraught that grief was making them sick. Their doctor advised them to move to a different house to get away from the memories. So
they moved back into Kewanna in November.
Still Ruth continued to have sad dreams every night, asking God over and over why Jimmy had to die. One night, she is not sure if she dreamed it or if she
actually heard a knock on the door and got up to answer it. Jimmy was there and she exclaimed, "How did you find us since we moved?"
He said, "Mom, I came to tell you that I am so happy in a beautiful place and I don't want you to grieve any more."
It has been 38 years and Ruth has not had any more dreams. She is able to tell the story without crying. Just hearing it made me all choked up.
Rick Weller, president of the class of 66, served two years in Viet Nam. After
attending college for one semester, Rick joined the Marines. On patrols he
was the radio operator so he was back three or four men from the point man.
He was about 30 miles from Jim when he was killed. Rick was in Da Nang and
Jim was in Chu Lai, which was a hotter area (more battles). Rick and Jim wrote
back and forth but did not see each other in Viet Nam. Rick said the last time
he saw Jim was at a basketball game at the Aubbeenaubbee School gym. He
envied Jim's natural abilities - he was a superstar in all sports. Rick learned
of Jim's death from a letter from his mother (Barb Gast) - the sad news hit
him like a ton of bricks. Rick came through Viet Nam ok. Barb flew to Hawaii
to visit him during his R&R. It still grieves Rick that Jim never got back home.
"I didn't have the guts to go see the Viet Nam wall but I sent my wife and
kids to make etchings." A few days later Rick called me to say he had
found a news clipping from the Sentinel May 18, 1961. It has a picture of
Kewanna's junior high 440 relay team all smiles for the photographer after
establishing a new record at the Fulton county track meet. The quartet
circled the oval in 56.6 seconds to crack the mark of 57.2 seconds set by
Richland Center in 1960. Pictured were Al McPherson, Kenny Robbins,
Ricky Weller and Jim Talbott. I went to the museum and made a copy of
the picture from the original Sentinel. I remember those kids at that age,
so short and cute, before they all got taller than me, their English and history teacher.
Marvin Good, another class of 66 member, recalled once during a basketball game that Rick Weller said "We are getting way behind. How can we win this
game?" Jim immediately spoke up with "We just gotta make more points."
Kenny Robbins, class of 1966, was a good friend of Jim's. Ken's bachelor party was held the night before Jim was killed. Ken's wedding took place Aug. 9
and word had not yet been received of Jim's death. Ken learned about Jim's death when his mother called him on his honeymoon. Ken recalled many happy
times with Jim: playing basketball and baseball and track, running relays. When Dean Day was coach, the players got free milk shakes at the Kewanna drug
store if they grabbed the basketball rim 20 times during practice. At the Marlow Inn, they got free hamburgers and French fries after a game, courtesy of
various alumni. After graduation they played summer basketball for the Penguin Point team, coached by Jim's uncle, Charlie Talbott. They played outdoors
in Riverside Park, Logansport. Jim wanted to be a catcher but they often put him as pitcher, where he excelled too. He was invited to try out for the Pittsburg
Pirates and he was accepted. But they said he had to go to the farm club and Jim refused and came home. About that time is when he enlisted to go in the
Tom Troutman, now an optometrist in Rochester, was in the same class with Jim
and was best friends with him for a while. He recalled that everyone in Kewanna
was best friends at one time or another. He and Jim used to stay overnight at each
other's houses when in grade school. They would have a pick-up basketball
game with Ron McColley in McColley's garage or in Troutman's hayloft and Jim
would always win. Jim was an outstanding athlete, the best natural athlete from
Kewanna. He was very personable and friendly - everybody liked Jim. Tom was
home from college for the summer when Jim was killed. He and his father went
to see Jim's parents and she showed them some of Jim's letters. Jim wrote that
he doubted that he would make it home alive. They were told that the point man
on a Search and Destroy Mission lasted only a few days so they took turns
being the point man.
When John Hott, another classmate of Jim's, was asked about Jim, he
immediately said Jim was his best friend. The Hotts lived on a dairy farm
northeast of Kewanna and as soon as John was finished milking cows,
he drove to school, picking Jim up every day.
Don Cowles, another class of 1966, recalled Jim as his best friend from
the time they were kids in grade school. They used to carry their baseball
mitts on the handlebars of their bikes all summer and played in Howard Zeller's
yard. At that time Jim lived across the street from the Catholic Church. One time
(after they had graduated) Don and Jim went for a ride with John Seidel and got
the idea to drive on the ice across Bruce Lake. They got about 25 feet and the car sank. After 41 years Don recently told me what they did on the senior trip
that I had never heard before. Don and Jim slipped out of the Radio City Music Hall and went to Greenwich Village on their own. They had their roommates
put pillows in their beds to look like they were there asleep to fool Bill when he came to do the bed check at midnight.
Before he left for the Army, Jim told Don he wished he had not enlisted. Don was at Kenny Robbins' bachelor party and so was Si Talbott. But they had not
received notice yet of Jim's death. It was such a shock to the whole community. "Jim is my hero," stated Don. "He was always a good kid and so talented, so
competitive in sports. We all miss him."
Another classmate, Marsha Agnew Tomerlin, recalled that she was taller than the boys in Junior High and Jim would ask, "Will I ever catch up with Marsha?"
Of course, he did in high school. She stated, "Jim knew he didn't have to go but he sacrificed his life for his country. We must never forget but always tell our
children and be grateful."
Ruth Talbott loaned me all of Jim's letters and Army papers and photos, which I copied for a scrapbook to be placed in the Fulton County Museum. Anyone
who has pictures or letters they wish to donate to this scrapbook, please bring copies to the museum, open Monday - Saturday 9 to 5. Or mail to Shirley
Willard, 3063 S 425 E, Rochester IN 46975. My phone is 574-223-2352 and I would love to hear from my former Kewanna students and people who knew
Jim. I will add your memories to this if you wish. The Sentinel published a condensed version of the above story on May 26, 2007.
|Fulton County Historical Society
|James F. Talbott, Kewanna
Killed in Viet Nam in 1969
All Smiles - Kewanna's junior high 440 relay
team smiles for the photographer after
new record at the Fulton county track meet.
The quartet circled the oval in 56.6 seconds
the mark of 57.2 seconds set by Richland
Center in 1960. Left to right are Al McPherson,
Kenny Robbins, Ricky Weller and Jim Talbott.
(The Sentinel Photo, May 18, 1961.)
|Jim and a buddy
|Jim Talbott by a helicopter in Viet Nam
|Talbott's name on the Viet Nam wall in Washington, D. C.
|Jim Talbott's grave at the Kewanna IOOF cemetery.