In recognition of the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, state Rep. Sheilla Lampkin continues her tributes to some of the WWII veterans who are no longer with us. This week, she writes about the late James T. Jordan, a longtime political figure in Drew County. Jordan, a former Drew County treasurer, Drew County judge, Monticello mayor, state Legislator, and decorated WWII veteran, often spoke at annual Memorial Day ceremonies. Here is his story – a war story and a love story:
In December 1942, after graduating from Drew Central High School at midterm, James T. Jordan and five young friends left Drew County to seek jobs in California because work was scarce in Arkansas. He soon found a “good” job paying $1.05 an hour but because he wasn’t yet 18 years old state law mandated that he be in school, so he registered and enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley.
California soon began drafting the young men from out of state to fill their military quotas and Jordan was drafted into the Army as a replacement for a native Californian. He was sent to Palo Alto for his basic training. Ironically, his future company commander lived across the street from him. Jordan always felt it more than a coincidence that he was assigned to the neighbor’s company. Jordan was sent to a fort south of San Francisco but got to come home 18 weekends during that time because he was given the duty of driving this commander (neighbor) home on those weekends.
In those days a soldier could volunteer for the job he wanted in the Army after his basic training. Jordan volunteered for paratrooper school and was shipped to Fort Banning, Georgia, for further training. It was a tough training session and you had to be tough to finish it. The soldiers practiced jumping off towers eight hours a day. Once, the young men were dropped off in Alabama and had to find their way back to the base. Jordan got back at 11 p.m. that night and had to be up and alert at 4 a.m. the next morning. Only 60 of the 400 in Jordan’s class graduated from paratrooper school.
While home on leave, James Jordan married his sweetheart, Bonnie Nichols, who went to Georgia and stayed off-base to be near him until he was sent overseas.
Jordan was assigned to the 101st Airborne, 501 Regiment, A Company. D-Day, June 6, 1944, had already occurred when Jordan’s company went to the continent; however, they flew to England, crossed the Channel and landed in France.
As a paratrooper, Jordan made about 150 jumps over Europe. The first jump was the only one that scared him. PFC Jordan saw action in England, France, Belgium and Germany.
Jordan’s major combat action occurred in the well-known Battle of the Bulge where he was wounded three times. The first two involved minor wounds from shrapnel in his leg and arm. On December 23, 1944, he received his third and most serious wound. He was hit in the stomach and head. He lost so much blood that only the extremely cold weather saved him but his greatest worry was for his wife Bonnie; he feared he might die and leave her alone.
When his buddies found him, they feared he would die. They picked Jordan up and carried him into a Catholic church, which was soon attacked. The German commander demanded that they surrender or he’d destroy the building. Those attending Jordan decided to take him into the basement. Jordan’s fear of being buried alive made him protest that sanctuary, but he was still taken below.
When the German shelling began, the church was destroyed. A collapsing wall killed some of the soldiers lying next to Jordan, but he was picked up and taken out before the entire building was leveled.
He always remembered that cold, pain-filled Christmas Day of 1945 because they had no penicillin and no other medical supplies. These supplies couldn’t be brought in because they couldn’t get through the surrounding German lines and the bitter cold kept supply planes on the ground.
When the weather conditions finally improved, American forces broke through the German lines and the battle ended on January 28, 1945.
Jordan was taken to an evacuation hospital and then sent to Paris on a train. From there, he was put on a hospital ship at Le Havre, France, and sent to South Wales where he had surgery for his wounds.
Jordan spent nearly four months in the hospital and kept his Army helmet with the bullet hole in it from the head wound for the rest of his life as a reminder. He remembered getting hit that cold December day and feeling for the bullet holes in the helmet. When he found one hole but couldn’t find the other, he knew he’d been seriously wounded.
After his recovery, Jordan returned to the battlefield. He was assigned to Company E, 502nd Regiment in Germany and the war was nearly over.
While he reconnoitered on Army patrols Jordan had the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful countryside in Germany, including the area known as “Hitler’s Hideaway” or the “Eagle’s Nest”. This beautiful mountain retreat was given to Hitler as a present on his 50th birthday. He was able to have his elite SS troops quartered there and many of the stolen gold and treasures of Europe were also hidden in the area.
During the war, the 101st Airborne — affectionately known as the “Screaming Eagles” because of their insignia patch — lost so many men that it was deactivated, or retired, at the end of the war.
Jordan came home on the Queen Mary as part of the 82nd Airborne. They sailed into New York in January, 1946, in time for a big victory parade.
From there he was to be sent to Sacramento, California, to be discharged since he’d been drafted from there. Jordan was disappointed because he was anxious to get back to Arkansas and his wife, Bonnie. When he spoke to his Commanding Officer in California about this, the officer arranged a plane ride to Texas for Jordan. From there he caught a bus to Little Rock and Bonnie picked him up there. James Jordan was home at last.
Jordan received numerous medals and honors for his service, including a Good Conduct Medal, a Combat Infantry Badge, a Presidential Citation, a Bronze Star, an honor medal and the revered Purple Heart. He also received medals from two foreign countries, Belgium and Holland.
After the war, he became a pipe fitter and then spent a year on the farm. Soon, he went into private business and became a successful businessman and family man. He served his community in many ways throughout his life, including the elective offices of Drew County treasurer, Drew County judge, mayor of Monticello and state representative.
For years Jordan kept in close contact with several veterans from different parts of the country that he served with in the war. He was active in the American Legion, the VFW, the Disabled American Veterans and the Purple Heart organization.
James Jordan was known as a man who loved people, service and America. He was a true American patriot. He died in December of 2009. His beloved Bonnie has since joined him. They are together again.