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Yuma County Pioneer Photographs:

Jim and Mildred Vincent, Yuma

By Matt Vincent

Jim Vincent had very few employment prospects after graduating from Yuma High School in 1945. World War II was coming to an explosive end with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki later that same summer. And the war was essentially over in Europe.

What Jim wanted most was to become a pharmacist. But that required a college degree. And like other kids from rural Colorado, his parents, James O. and Gertrude Vincent, could not afford the cost of a college. It was hard enough simply to put food on the table.

However, Jim had heard rumors about legislation that was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Harry Truman during his senior year in high school. It was called the "Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944." Crafted by the American Legion, and passed largely due to the lobbying efforts of VFW chapters nationwide, the law provided college tuition and living expenses for anyone who had served on active duty for at least 90 days and had been honorably discharged.

It came to be known as the G.I. Bill and Jim was part of the first wave of young Americans who took full advantage of the opportunity.

With his parents' blessings, Jim caught a ride to Lowry Field in Denver and enlisted in the U.S. Army on Oct. 5, 1946. Only 19 at the time, he was assigned to the 24th Infantry Division and was put on a train to California for basic training. And in a matter of weeks he found himself on a ship in the Pacific Ocean headed for Japan as part of the Allied Occupational Forces.

The 24th Infantry Division was based in Kyushu where, for a brief period, Jim served as a military policeman. He also visited Hiroshima where the first atomic bomb had been dropped by a B-29 on Aug. 6, 1945. Three days later, after a second atomic bomb hit Nagasaki, Japan sued for peace.

More than 350,000 active U.S. troops had arrived in Japan by the end of 1945 and in 1946 replacement troops began arriving. Jim was part of that troop rotation under General Douglas MacArthur's Eighth Army. Both the 24th and 41st divisions occupied Hiroshima for a brief time.

Jim seldom talked about what he did and what he saw during his time in Japan. His recollections were few and seldom shared. However, one of the memories he did tell family members involved "nuclear shadows" in the devastated city of Hiroshima. A nuclear shadow is a bizarre phenomenon that results from the detonation of an atomic device. The explosion casts silhouettes on stone and concrete through the flash of thermal nuclear radiation. The nuclear shadows of Hiroshima were forever etched in Jim's memory forever, frozen in time by the flash of a nuclear bomb.

Jim was honorably discharged in 1947 and immediately returned to Yuma to marry his high school sweetheart, Mildred, and together they packed their bags headed to Boulder, Colo., so Jim could get his pharmacy degree from the University of Colorado.

A footnote on the 24th Infantry Division: Jim's regiment became part of the front line for the first 18 months of the Korean War and suffered more than 10,000 casualties in brutal fighting against the Chinese and North Koreans. Although reactivated in October of 1999 as a formation for training and deploying units of the U.S. Army National Guard, the 24th was officially deactivated for the final time in October of 2006.

For the remainder of his life, Jim was a proud military veteran and patriot. And he was also vocal proponent of national assistance programs like the G.I. Bill, which allowed him to pursue his version of the American Dream. Jim and Mildred became respected citizens and community builders and spent the remainder of their lives creating entrepreneurial businesses like Shop-All, Inc., and Colorado Community Banks. And Jim gave back to his community through volunteer efforts like the Yuma Fire Department and social projects like the High Plains Manor and low-cost housing for the disadvantaged.

Jim Vincent died April 11, 2008, at the age of 81, but he never forgot the debt he owed his country for the G.I. Bill and the "leg up" it provided to the son of a poor plumber from Yuma.

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