In April of 1944, James Dwight Spears decided to enlist in the military.
On his way to sign up he noticed a Marines recruiting office near a Navy recruiting office and contemplated his options. Eventually concluding that sleeping in the mud was not something he wanted to do, Spears made the decision at the age of 17 to join the United States Navy.
Seaman First Class Spears was assigned to the USS Stockton Dakota and was immediately trained to serve and protect his country during World War II.
“My battle station was on a 20mm gun. It didn’t take long to learn once I strapped myself in. There were one hundred rounds in the magazine and it took only one minute to fire off,” Spears recalled.
Once in the midst of guns firing, sharp pieces of metal, better known as shrapnel sprayed the right wrist of Spears.
“My cover was bloody.” he remembered, “but that didn’t slow me down. In those days, I stopped bleeding in a hurry because I was in pretty good shape.”
Another significant opportunity that opened up for Spears through the center was the ability to apply for the Honor Flight Network—a program developed in 2005 by physician assistant and Retired Air Force Captain Earl Morse, who wanted to honor veterans by flying them to Washington Dc, free of charge, to see the WWII Memorial.
Spears has been selected for the Honor Flight that will take 25 California World War II veterans to visit the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23.
Spears received the American Area Campaign Medal, an award established in November of 1942, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognizing military members for their services along with the World War II Victory Medal, Philippine Liberation Ribbon (2 stars), and an Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal (7 stars). Spears also received one of the oldest military awards established in 1869, the Good Conduct Medal given to military members for their “honorable and faithful service” before being honorably discharged on Dec, 2, 1947.
Although his service had ended just shy of four years, his heart for the Navy had not.
“The biggest mistake I made was that I should have requested staying on to attend cooking school. I would have stayed in the Navy for at least 20 years. I was a 10th grade dropout and in civilian life that was nothing and today it’s really nothing if you don’t have a B.A. degree,” Spears said.
Civilian life definitely had its benefits as Spears was able to spend much of his time involved with his four children and their various activities over the years.
“I was very involved in leading Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Little League,” he recalled with a smile.
As a resident of San Lorenzo, Spears served as a councilman for the San Lorenzo Village Home Association for six years before being elected by the association in 1999 as president to oversee 5,600 plus homes.
When his presidential term with the association was up Spears was asked to run again but decided he wanted to move closer to his daughter in Manteca. Spears made the move and purchased a home near the Manteca Senior Center. He was encouraged by others early on to get involved at the center but was initially resistant.
“At first I didn’t want to get involved because I thought there was nobody there but little old ladies but then I did get involved and I liked it,” he said. “I have been involved for 10 years now.”
Fortunately for Spears, it was his involvement with the Manteca Senior Center that led him to meet his wife, Peggy. The two met while drying pots and pans in the kitchen during a fundraiser for Katrina victims and they hit it off. In 2007 they were married at the senior center right where they met.
During a veteran’s appreciation day held at the senior center, Honor Flight Network applications were made available for World War II veterans. Spears was not particularly expecting to be chosen, nevertheless he filled out the application and sent it in. It was almost a year later when Spears received a very special notice. He was chosen as one of 25 veterans to visit the WWII Memorial this month.
“I am very excited to go.” Spears said. “I have a brother that’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery and I hope I get to find him when I’m there.”
Peggy’s son, a ex-Marine and American Legion member like Spears, will be accompanying him for the three day event. During the Honor Flight Network orientation veterans will receive a duffle bag, jacket and shirt as a small token of gratitude which they will wear during the honoring ceremonies and throughout the various places they will tour while there.
Visiting his brother at Arlington Cemetery is one dream Spears hopes to fulfill soon. He also hopes to see his ship, the USS South Dakota once again. Originally the USS South Dakota was to be the ship where the treaty that ended the war was to be signed. In the end, President Truman changed the location and the treaty was signed on the deck of USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.
Reflecting back on how his time in the military helped him mature into a responsible individual, Spears believes he learned more in his nearly four years of service than he would have in 10 years of high school. He also believes it would be a great maturing benefit for today’s graduating high school students, male or female, to enlist for 2-years,