Taking Flight

By Lauren Thornton Tobin

 

Korean War veteran James “Jim” Staudt didn’t want recognition for his time in the service and he didn’t want public attention.

He did want to see what it was like to fly in a World War II P-40 Warhawk. In fact, he has wanted to ride in one for more than 60 years.

Shortly after Staudt and his wife Monica got married 63 years ago, he was presented with the opportunity to fly the famous P-40, but since it was $50 and he had a family to take care of, he passed the offer up.

Seven children and six decades later, Monica found a newspaper article advertising flights on the pursuit jet at Pryor Field Regional Airport in Tanner.

With only 24 hours to prepare, she called in her own soldiers and they went to work.

Near Staudt’s 85th birthday, he and his son arrived home from a physical therapy appointment. When they walked in the door, Monica handed Staudt the article and told him that for his birthday, he was taking flight.

“I told him he was not going to regret it again,” she said.

The next day, his children, grandchildren and wife gathered at the airport and watched Staudt take off.

“It was the thrill of a lifetime,” he said. “It was everything I thought it would be and then some.”

Staudt’s passion for the United States Military, some may say, was never a conscious decision; it is in his DNA.

Staudt’s father, Everette, enlisted in the North Dakota National Guard when he was 18. He was a part of the 1st Infantry in Lisbon.

Everette, a Private First Class, served in World War I with the Field Hospital Company, and his job description was one that many people might pass up.

He was an ambulance driver, though his ambulance was different than those today that flash lights and scream loud sirens.

Everette’s ambulance was a horse and carriage and his job was to go into the French trenches and pick up soldiers’ bodies.

During this time, Everette made friends with a doctor there, Maj. Thomas C. Patterson, and it was a friendship that lasted even after they came home.

Staudt said he remembers meeting Patterson only one time, and not under the best of circumstances.

“I was driving a tractor, plowing, and I was probably about nine, I was too young to drive for sure, and in those days there was a release on the tractor and equipment,” he said, explaining that his father owned a small grain field that the two were tending.

“If you pulled too hard, (the equipment) would let go. Well I went over a dip and the plow dug in (the ground) too deep and the hitch unhooked. Dad was in the car watching me and he came over to help me hook it back up.”

While Everette was holding the hitch for Staudt to back the tractor to, Staudt reversed over the dip, throwing his small body backwards into the seat.

“I couldn’t reach the pedals and the tractor pinned Dad between it and the plow,” he said, explaining that the incident caused the tractor engine to turn off, keeping Everette pinned.

“I had never started the tractor before because the kick could break my arm, but Dad told me to see if I could get it cranked.”

Staudt tried his best and when the engine started, he steered the tractor away from his father.

Unfortunately, the accident caused a half-inch bolt to impale itself into Everette’s leg.

“It was bigger than my finger and it went into his leg, all the way to the bone, and blood was filling up his boots,” Staudt said.

Everette told his son to take him home instead of the hospital, a decision that Staudt said caused his mother “to just about have a fit.”

“She chewed him out for not going to the hospital, but he said, ‘I’ll be all right. Just call Doc.’”

Staudt said he remembers his mother stating that ‘Doc,’ or Maj. Patterson, was retired, but that Everette was confident Patterson would come to the rescue – and he was right.

“He came and doctored him up, then they had a few drinks,” Staudt said.

Though that may not be Staudt’s fondest memory, he has another, much happier one stored in his file – the first time he ever sat in a World War II fighter jet:

After the First World War, Everette was back home in Lisbon and a commander in the National Guard, which made him responsible for whatever came to his area in regards to the military.

During World War II, servicemen transferred P-40 Fighter planes from one town to the next in attempts to get them overseas.

On one particular trip, pilots ran into a snowstorm just outside Lisbon and made the decision for an emergency landing.

“The farmers called the police and the police called the National Guard. Dad sent soldiers out to guard the planes, that was during wartime and you didn’t mess around with anything pertaining to the war,” Staudt said, adding that Everette also invited the pilots back to his home where they could warm up and have a few drinks.

“I got to talk to them and pester them,” he said. “The next morning, Dad took me with them (back to the planes). While the planes were warming up, one of the pilots asked me if I would like to sit in it and I practically jumped in.”

Staudt smiled and said he was excited to just be able to sit in the plane.

“It was a thrill I’ll never forget,” he said.

It is no wonder that as Staudt grew up, he wanted to serve as his father did in the National Guard.

At just 16, technically younger than allowed, he enlisted. Two year later, he was gearing up to fight for his country in Korea.

“I think I knew Dad wanted me to go the National Guard; he was ultra patriotic,” Staudt said.

Before taking off overseas, Staudt stayed at Fort Rucker and served in the artillery outfit.

When he got to Korea, he became Chief of Section over the gun unit.

“That was a tough learning experience for a little while because the guns there were totally different, but I caught on,” Staudt said. “In about two months, and I don’t know why, they made me Chief of the Firing Battery and I got a promotion.”

Staudt said he wrote a letter to his father about the promotion, but for the most part, they never discussed their time in war zones.

“He never said a word about his and I never said a word about mine,” he said. “It just wasn’t something we talked about.”

Staudt said he remembers his father being so touched by those he served with in France, that when he got home he dedicated his life to helping his fellow veterans.

“He used to loan his car to vets around there,” Staudt said. “He let them use it to take their families to Fargo for doctor appointments. He did so much. The town we lived in was less than 2,000 people and he was the commander of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars. I don’t know how word got around, but he was picked to be the State Commander of the VFW.”

Everette died when Staudt was 24 years old.

When Staudt left the military, he became a truck driver. Though after delivering a particularly difficult load, he decided to steer his future in a different direction.

Staudt spoke with an engineer and asked where to start if he wanted to go college.

“He told me and I got in school,” he said and then smiled mischievously. “I became an engineer but they never gave me a train. I thought you got a train.”

The pride that etches across Staudt’s face and shines through his eyes when he talks about his father is the same thing that happens when Staudt’s children talk about him.

His daughter Patty Whatley said there was no way she could miss watching him fly in the P-40.

“Everybody did whatever they had to do to be there,” she said.

Another daughter, Tarri Drake, said words can’t describe how she feels about her father.

“When Dad got to fly that plane, the way I felt watching him, was how he felt about his dad,” she said. “That was a monumental day.”

Drake said her father has always been driven, but this goal was one that he had set aside for too many years.

“If Dad had a dream, he pursued it,” she said. “That plane was the biggest, fastest and best in the sky and he wanted to fly it.”

 

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