Weatherford Democrat

November 23, 2012

Veteran recalls work all over the world

Sally Sexton

— For 31 years, 10 months and one day, Weatherford’s James Maxwell served as a military representative for his country.

Maxwell’s interest in the military began during the Depression, when he worked for a construction quartermaster as Fort Wolters, in Mineral Wells, was being built.

“I was at the age where you had to sign up for the draft,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell and his late wife, Alice Marie, had been married at the age of 19, five months before the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor.

“We were married before the war, and I went and saw a recruiter. When my wife found out, she had a hissy,” he said.

Maxwell received a release from the draft board to join the Texas Defense Guard, and from there, signed up for basic training, making his way to Waco for the Blackland Army Air Field.

After completing his two weeks, Maxwell began working in a quartermaster’s office as a clerk, where he began studying for his cadets exam.

“I flunked the first time, but I passed on the second try and was sent to Miami Beach,” he said.

There, cadets had the option of attending college training detachment as a way to further their education. Maxwell attended Xavier University in Cincinnati.

Maxwell’s main interest in the Air Force was to become a bombardier.

“I figured it would be easier to get through,” he said of his decision.

Maxwell attended Childress Air Force Base, then was sent to Tampa, Fla. and assigned to a crew at Drew Army Air Force Base.

“I was getting close to being sent out as a bombardier, when they stopped us and said they were over on the number of positions,” he said.

Maxwell stayed with the crew, helping navigate the B17s as they loaded and unloaded bombs.

“Out of our 10 crew members, seven of them are already dead and buried,” he said.

After the war was over, Maxwell and others were sent on combat missions to Berlin and Dresden.

“When I reported to my squadron, they made me navigator, and I went to school at the base in England,” he said.

Maxwell’s squadron’s primary duties included going on bomb runs while transporting atomic weapons.

“If you were lucky, you made it,” Maxwell said of the dangerous weapons surrounding the men. “God was on your side and didn’t want you to die yet.”

The crew aboard the aircraft also began taking pictures of areas such as Tunisia, Libya, Morroco, Liberia, Italy and Africa.

“Everything had been bombed and the terrain had all changed,” Maxwell said. “We didn’t have really any current maps, so we would develop the pictures and made maps of those areas.”

At the age of 23, Maxwell returned home.

“When I got back, they asked me if I wanted to stay in the reserves, so I said yes,” he said.

Maxwell was assigned to the 509th bomb wing, training with the same unit that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

By that time, the Korean War had started, and B29s were requiring bombardiers for missions.

“I was sent to Ellington Field [in Houston] and we flew upgraded missions using newer equipment,” he said.

Shortly after, Maxwell made his way to Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, S.D.

“My wife and I, and some other Air Force people, decided to found a baptist church right there in Rapid City,” he said.

Maxwell would eventually start another Baptist church three years later, this one during duty in Puerto Rico.

While at Ramey Air Force Base in Aguadilla, Maxwell and his crewman would carry atomic weapons, flying halfway across the Atlantic Ocean.

“We would stay on airborne alert until we got to the Mediterranean, then be on ground alert for four days,” he said. “We never dropped the bombs, we just carried them around. We figured if we were going to die, we were going to die.”

Maxwell spent the next three years at Eglin Air Force Base. One of the aircraft’s destinations was Casablanca in Morroco, making for a long journey for the pilot and crew.

“The pilots had to be sharp rascals,” he said. “That’s about a 28-hour straight flight and sometimes we would have an extra pilot on board just so someone could try and get some sleep.”

While there, the Air Force upgraded from B36s to B52s.

“The B52 was the Cadillac of the Air Force,” Maxwell said.

After Eglin, Maxwell was sent to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, where he was a member of the combat evaluation group.

Maxwell later became chief of the bombing navigation section at the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, then spent time with the 15th Air Force base in California doing the same thing.