BOWLING GREEN, Ky. —When Jim Manley joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1958 just prior to the large-scale involvement of the U.S. military in the Vietnam War he saw military service as an opportunity to give back to his country.
“Back when I went in, people respected and looked kindly to military personnel,” Manley said. “It was an opportunity to serve your country.”
The Marine Corps held bootcamp at one of two locations, Parris Island, South Carolina, or the “Hollywood Marines” as Manley called the people trained in San Diego.
Manley, a graduate of Butler County High School, enlisted. A friend of his suggested they join the Marine Corps together.
“I came to the recruiting station in Bowling Green and he never did show up,” Manley said with a laugh. “About three months later I could have killed him.”
Manley signed up and off he went to Parris Island for 12 weeks of bootcamp. From Parris Island, he trained in Jacksonville, Fla., for a month learning everything there was to know about aircraft logs and records. His next stop landed him in Los Angeles just before reaching Marine Corps Air Station El Toro where he was placed in Marine Fighter Squadron 323.
“My job was to make sure everything on the aircraft was recorded and inspected,” he said.
During his training period in El Toro he would go on maneuvers in Washington state and Yuma, Arizona. That was just before he received orders that his squadron would ship out on the U.S.S. Lexington, an attack aircraft carrier at that time, to support the U.S. efforts in Vietnam.
“When we were in Hong Kong, our planes sat on the catapults 24/7 preparing to be launched,” Manley said. “They were ready to go in a minute’s notice.”
During Manley’s four years in the Marines, he estimates he spent between six and eight months total on the Lexington.
“There were times when it was really rough,” he said. “Being on the flight deck was somewhat scary. If you got washed off the deck or fall off the deck, you’re a goner.
“I never actually witnessed it happen, but it did happen,” he said.
At times aircraft were lost from aircraft carriers.
When that happened, the first thing officers did was retrieve the logbook and maintenance records for the aircraft.
“When somebody takes off and they don’t ever come back, you don’t know what happened,” Manley said.
During Manley’s time on the Lexington, one aircraft was lost.
The ship didn’t take any enemy fire when Manley was on it.
In 1962, Manley could have re-enlisted but he decided to leave the Marine Corps and took a job with the U.S. Postal Service in Bowling Green. He joined the American Legion Post 23 some 46 years ago and became the financial officer in 1992.
Manley looks at his service work in the American Legion as another extension of continuing to serve his community.
Through the American Legion, he helps coordinate a van that carries veterans to the VA hospital in Nashville. He also sits on the Homeless Veterans Housing Committee.
Over the last two years, the American Legion Post 23 has worked with the VA to put 15 homeless veterans into apartments in the area. The American Legion fully furnishes the apartments with some assistance from the Good Deeds Club at Alvaton Elementary School, he said.
The American Legion is also involved in many other charitable endeavors.
In working with veterans, Manley understands the medical needs many of them have and is appreciative of the services provided by the VA Clinic at Fairview Plaza in Bowling Green.
“They’re the greatest people in the world,” he said of the local VA clinic.
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