Dale veteran drafted during WWII, Korea


For a guy who didn’t plan to join the military, getting drafted twice was maddening.

Tuley today

That’s what happened to Dale native James Tuley, 91, at the end of World War II and the beginning of the Korean War.

Tuley was working on the family farm about two miles south of his current residence on Mt. Pleasant Road in Dale and was just waiting for his draft number to come up. The first time was in 1944, and he was assigned to the U.S. Navy. After World War II ended in 1945, the military downsized. Tuley never deployed in World War II, but he was placed in the Navy Reserves and sent back to the family farm. Five years later, in 1950, his number came up again, this time for the Army and this time during the Korean War.

“I wasn’t too happy,” said Tuley, who was in his 20s when he served in Korea.

He and his wife, Bessie Mae (Dague), 88, hurried to marry before he left in 1951. They were married on May 27, 1951, and their anniversary has become a bit of a joke over the years. If you ask Bessie Mae, they’ve been married 66 years; if you ask James, he’ll jokingly say it’s only been 65. See, he was in Korea for their first year of marriage, and it “just didn’t feel like (he) was married.”

Tuley in 1950

What it did feel like was cold. He was stationed in the mountains 40 miles north of the 38th parallel, the rough border between North and South Korea. When he arrived on the base in October, temperatures were already falling well below freezing at night.

“One thing that (cold) did: We didn’t have any gangrene,” Tuley said.

Tuley’s first night on base was particularly cold. The generator wasn’t working. Thankfully, Tuley gained some mechanical knowledge on the farm and could fix the generator. The commanding officer told him as long as he kept the generator going, he wouldn’t have to run guard duty.

Before Tuley shipped overseas, he trained to be a surgery technician at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio but when he got to Korea, he did just about everything else. The Army could hire Japanese or Korean surgery technicians much more cheaply than the American soldiers, so they didn’t need him. What they did need were truck drivers, and, just like with the generator, Tuley’s farm experience made him the man for the job.

For the next eight months, Tuley drove a truck all around the area. Most of the time, he was transporting the wounded to the battalion hospital. He was also the one in charge of meeting ambulances as they came onto the base and getting the doctors. Often, he slept only seven hours over four days.

Despite serving just short of a year in a combat zone, the scariest time of Tuley’s service happened on the boat ride to Korea. He was in a 285-foot ship overloaded with men and equipment. One night he was looking up at the stars and noticed that the North Star was in a position that said the boat was traveling north when it should have been going southwest.

“You can’t lose me,” Tuley joked.

He found out there was a typhoon nearby, and the direction change would keep them from going through the center of the storm. If the ship went through the worst part, the captain figured it would sink. For two days, the ship sailed back and forth along the same path waiting for the typhoon to pass. They missed the worst part of the storm, but the ship was still tossed about by 65-foot waves. At times, Tuley remembers wondering if he’d even make it to Korea.

Thirteen months after the storm, Tuley was back in the states, and in 1953 he and Bessie Mae bought farmland in Dale, the town where they grew up.

Tuley made a career out of livestock. He drove a school bus for 23 years and spent periods working at Jasper Engines and Transmissions and as a traveling salesman. He and Bessie Mae raised six kids — Dennis, Donnie, Eric, Laura, Linda and Yvonne, who lost a battle with cancer last year — and their niece and nephew, Judy and Larry, in Dale. Now, the Tuleys have 14 grandkids with a 15th on the way and 12 great-grandkids.

Tuley’s life has taken him to seven countries and 48 states, but he still likes Dale, Indiana best.

More on DuboisCountyHerald.com