Veteran hopes he ‘was a good role model’November 26, 2018
By ALLEN LAMAN
FERDINAND — Jim Wahl, 87, didn’t see combat during his nearly four years in the Navy. But his experiences as an aviation technician left a lasting impact on his life that he hopes he passed on to others.
“When you come from a home where there’s 16 children, and Mother died when I was quite young, and Father was an alcoholic ... living in the Navy or in the service was easy,” Wahl says. “I enjoyed my service and what I did. I’m glad that I did it, because when I came out, I went to college on the GI Bill.”
Born in Dale, Wahl entered the service in June 1949 and got out in April 1953. After his discharge, he worked as an educator in area schools for decades. He now lives in Ferdinand.
He says if he hadn’t joined, he would have been drafted. Twenty boys graduated with him in the Dale High School class of 1949. All but one joined the military voluntarily or was drafted.
Wahl’s Navy career began in San Diego where he completed boot camp. He then attended specialization schooling in Millington, Tennessee, where he decided to pursue the path of an aviation electrician.
In April 1950, he was shipped to the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, just a few miles outside of Washington, D.C. He worked as an aviation electrician’s mate at the base for 20 months.
Wahl says much of the time he spent at the Maryland air station was spent in a battery locker where he put acid into batteries, and charged them up. In November 1951, he was sent to Iceland, where he was part of a ground crew that fixed damaged planes that mechanics couldn’t repair. Those planes dropped solenoids into the ocean to track enemy submarine movements.
“If we had to take the whole engine off and put a new engine on, we’d put a new engine on,” he recalls. “We’d start at 4 o’clock in the afternoon — because that’s usually when they got in — and we had to have that plane back, ready to fly the next morning, if at all possible.”
He continues: “So, if that meant we worked all night, we worked all night.”
Wahl didn’t mind that at all. When they weren’t working, he and his fellow technicians played basketball and hung out in the gym.
Despite what you may have heard, Wahl says the weather wasn’t extremely cold all the time in Keflavik, where he was stationed. He learned that Iceland is actually a green island, while nearby Greenland is an icy swath of land.
He came back to the U.S. a year after arriving in Iceland. Then, he was stationed in Chincoteague, Virginia, and discharged for good five months later.
Wahl subsequently graduated from the University of Evansville with undergraduate and master’s degrees in math, chemistry and physical education. He was the first of his siblings to earn a college degree.
He held teaching and coaching jobs at St. Ferdinand High School and Dale High School, before taking the helm as principal at Northeast Dubois in 1969. Wahl held that title for 25 years, and enjoyed that every day was different at the school.
Wahl actually started his collegiate schooling in electrical engineering, but switched after a career test directed him to education. The results were clear — he should work with young people.
“Every morning, I’d walk in the hallways and be whistling or singing or something, and everyone wanted to know why I was so happy,” Wahl remembers about his time at Northeast Dubois. “I said, ‘Well, I enjoy coming to work. Every morning, I’ve got problems during the day, I work hard, and in the evenings, if I don’t have to supervise anything, I come home and spend time with the family.’”
His time in the service influenced who he was as an educator.
“I had some people to look up to as role models, and I enjoyed that very much,” Wahl says. “I figured that really helped me. I hope that I was a good role model for kids in school, but also particularly for my own family.”
Wahl and his wife, Doretha (Klueh), have six children: Paul, Ken, Pat, Jane (Whitsitt), Nick and Tom.
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