Phoenix Veterans Day Parade grand marshal Col. Gobel James: Grace under fire

Several decades before he was chosen as one of seven grand marshals in this year’s Veterans Day Parade, Col. Gobel James spent 32 years in the military, most of it as a U.S. Air Force pilot.

“The Korean War was on when I joined the Air Force in 1952 and the hostilities in Korea ended six months after I got my wings, so I never entered any combat until the Vietnam War in 1968.

“I was on my 34th mission,” he remembers vividly, “Our job was to destroy surface-to-air missile sites.”

There were none, “And, we were getting low on fuel so the lead aircraft said, ‘Let’s go down and bomb that road intersection and go home.’ So, I dove in and dropped my bombs and as I pulled off the target, the aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire.”

The warning lights on his dashboard lit up the cockpit.

“I had no control over the airplane at all,” James said.

However, he did manage to get the wings leveled and the nose up to feel the jet climbing.

That’s when he said the Thunderchief’s long nose dropped below the horizon and headed toward the ground.

“I had a man in my back seat [Capt. Larry Martin was his electronic warfare officer] and I told him to eject first,” to avoid clipping jet canopies, “And, I waited a few seconds. When I ejected, I was going 450 to maybe 500 knots.”

The sheer blast broke his left knee and dislocated it as he drifted by his parachute 3,000 feet in the air.

His chief concern at the time was on Martin.

“I called the lead aircraft and he had seen me eject,” James said.

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