'We've Pretty Much Covered Our Bucket List'

By Wells, Sandy | The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), December 4, 2018 | Go to article overview

'We've Pretty Much Covered Our Bucket List'


Wells, Sandy, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)


Who says you can't go home again? Jim Cook could have told Thomas Wolfe a thing or two.

Dreaming of travel even as a small boy, he didn't let grass grow under his feet as he satisfied an itch for wanderlust throughout his highly productive life.

But as he reached the waning chapters of his journey, nothing appealed to him more than the green, green grass of home.

At 83, back within the welcoming boundaries of his beloved boyhood stomping grounds, he now obliges that call to far-away places through hiking trips with his wife, Jewell, an inveterate walker. Their treks cover 37 countries. So far.

His lifelong travelogue started when he signed up for jump school. Twenty-six years in the military -- two in the Army and 24 in the Air Force - included duty as a parachuting meteorologist reporting on weather conditions for upcoming battles.

He survived all this while battling acrophobia, a mentally crippling fear of heights. A parachutist with acrophobia? Apparently it worked. He retired as a lieutenant colonel.

Certain words in his biography pop out - Cape Canaveral, CIA, degrees in psychology and meteorology, trips to Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Nothing ordinary about this guy.

Before retiring at 72, he oversaw a military counseling program for the state and worked in health care planning for Gov. Gaston Caperton.

He's pleased with his life, especially the realization of his teenage military dream. Sometimes the best-laid plans do pan out.

"My dad worked for a traveling construction company and came through here, and this was in the middle of the Depression.

"The story goes that [my mother] went into a speakeasy one night where you could get booze, and there was this big man on the floor rolling dice. That was my dad.

"He was here for several weeks and married her, and they were immediately on the road - Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Atlantic City Birmingham, Savannah, all over Florida, 26 states.

"This was in a day when there were no Holiday Inns, just boarding houses, trailer courts, where we could find a place to live.

"When I was ready to start school, they thought they might settle in Tampa, and I started first grade there.

"Something bad happened after my first semester. Pearl Harbor. We came back here where Mom was from, and I spent all my school years here on the West Side of Charleston and went to Stonewall.

"I grew up during a good bit of the war years, and they had these propaganda movies out - the ace fighter pilot, Audie Murphy, all that - and I decided I wanted to be an officer in the military. I wanted to travel, another motivation for going into the military.

"I couldn't afford to go to college, a prerequisite for being an officer. So I went in the Army for two years and got the GI Bill and went to Marshall and got a degree in psychology.

"I wanted to go back in the service then, so I went through officer training in the Air Force. I spent another 24 years in the Air Force.

"It was unusual. I went to jump school and wore the jump wings. A lot of Air Force pilots would look at the wings and say, You mean you would jump out of a perfectly good airplane?' I worked with Army units, the 82nd Airborne and Special Forces and other units.

"I went to Texas A&M under auspices of the Air Force. They needed weather officers, meteorologists.

"I had just enough math and science to get into the program. It was the hardest two years of my life. I ended up getting a master's in meteorology, a specialty the Army doesn't have.

"Most military operations are weather-sensitive. D-Day, for example, was a weather-sensitive operation.

"The first Army general I worked for wanted to know which direction the winds would be blowing in the morning. …

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