Military Service



Daddy was a member of R.O.T.C. at Kansas State. He and Mother were married in 1935, but they did not take a honeymoon until after he completed his six-week R.O.T.C. camp in 1937. He graduated from Kansas State in 1938 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering and worked for several different companies until he received his orders to report for military duty in 1941.

James Madsen Towner entered the Army on September 11, 1941, and separated March 5, 1945, per his Army Separation Qualification Record. The numbers don’t exactly add up, but his Separation Record says he spent forty-five months as a Searchlight Unit Officer (Major) and seven months as Anti-Aircraft Artillery Operations Officer (Major). His separation record (see gallery) gives a summary of his service.

When Daddy entered into active service, he went directly into artillery, where he said the army was placing all engineers at the time. Before the U. S. entered the war in 1941, he was ordered to duty on his Asst. Lt. Reserve Officer commission for one year and one day active service and reported to Camp Wallace south of Houston, Texas. Daddy wrote that he remembered the hurricane along the gulf coast in 1941 while he was stationed at Camp Wallace. As the hurricane became more severe, he was told to evacuate Pat and one-year-old daughter Patsy from Galveston Island. All residents were being evacuated. He drove their 1941 Ford into Jack Tar Courts, picked up Mother and Patsy and drove them into Houston, where Mother’s brother Fred lived. The highway from Galveston crossed a causeway about two miles long. He drove about five miles an hour in a solid line of cars along and guided by tall poles attached to the edge of the pavement. He wrote, “The water was over the edge of my running board, it was pouring down windy rain. For about a half an hour we could not see land – just barely the car ahead.” [ 1941 Hurricane ]

Daddy then transferred to Camp Hawn California and then to Army Air Force Center in Orlando, Florida. Mother and Patsy went with him. He was assigned to the 351st AA Battalion, then to the AAFTAC anti-aircraft unit as an instructor in Air Defense. He was commissioned in 1941 as First Lieutenant, Instructor Coast Artillery and Anti-Aircraft for Air Force. Daddy was an expert marksman and also carried a camera with him in the swamps of Florida.

In 1942, on active military service as a reserve 1st. Lieutenant, CAC, AAA Division, AAF School of Applied Tactics, Orlando Army Air Base, Orlando, Florida, Daddy was assigned as instructor of the Searchlight Day Fighter Course and the Senior Officers Course. While he was there, he was responsible for instructing tactical and technical use of the carbon arc sixty-inch searchlight, coordinated with the two-six-eight radar unit. On a typical summer afternoon field units were scattered throughout the area, far into the forests, in orange groves, and often near one of the many lakes. Summertime brought afternoon showers to Orlando. He said he could nearly set his watch to the daily three o’clock afternoon deluges. On that particular afternoon in 1942 he had one two-six-eight radar set up in a grassy clearing among tall pines near his battalion headquarters at the edge of the base. An hour lecture for about ten students was scheduled at the unit for three p.m. He had to stop lecturing several times because of lightning. While posing the question to his students about what would happen if lightning struck a nearby red brick chimney, a bolt hit the chimney, which exploded. At that point, as his story goes, a student asked what would happen if lightning hit the radar unit they were all standing about ten feet from, and they all laughed when one of the men observed and commented that Daddy was the tallest and would be a good target. The next thing Daddy said he remembered was a solid flash of blue in his eyes and a snapping sound like a pencil breaking. Everything went blue-white. He said he didn’t remember hitting the ground, but when he regained consciousness (reportedly fifteen minutes later), he was flat on his stomach, one arm in the damp sand under his head and the other by his side. He said he was confused, scared, angry, and eye-witnesses reported that he was somewhat violent. He tried to get up and run but fell flat in the sand with his pants around his ankles, because his belt and pants had been loosened while they resuscitated him. He was carried to the Jeep and then to the infirmary, where the doctor made him walk and drink a lot of hot black coffee. Later he learned that they actually thought he wasn’t going to make it. He took it easy for a few days and was then released to return to work. Years later, he wrote a short story about this occurrence and called it “A Bolt Out of the Blue.”

Mother loved to talk about how Daddy received orders for overseas deployment several times. Each time they said their tearful good-byes, and each time he showed up at home for dinner that same night saying that his orders had been changed.

Daddy acquired the temporary rank of Lt. Colonel and remained in Florida until he was discharged with the permanent rank of Major. The Department of Veterans Affairs indicates he was released from service on March 5, 1945. Then he, Mother, and my sisters Patsy and Nancy moved to Texas. I was not born yet.


One thought on “Military Service

  1. towneraccordingtotina April 18, 2016 / 6:39 pm

    My sister Patsy says that they did not move directly to Texas from Florida. They first moved to Des Plaines, Illinois.
    Daddy was hired by U. S. Gypsum as a construction engineer, and they moved to Des Plaines, Illinois. In a resume Daddy built for the purpose of applying for the National Rockhound and Lapidary Hall of Fame, he does not mention living in the Chicago area, so they must have lived there for only a very short time before he was transferred to Dallas, Texas, in 1946.


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