Veterans Voice: James H. "Jim" Cochenour
James H. “Jim” Cochenour
Jim Cochenour was born and raised in Hale, Mo. He graduated from Hale High School in 1961 and took a job with Hallmark Cards in Kansas City. He joined the United States Air Force in 1963.
He took basic training at Lackland AFB in Texas. From there he went to Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Illinois, for aircraft instrument specialist training. Following the completion of tech school, Jim was stationed at Laredo AFB in Texas. This was an air training command specializing in training pilots. While there, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and Jim's unit was put on immediate alert on the flight line to guard the aircraft.
Jim received a 14 day leave in June of 1965 and married his childhood sweetheart, Debera Ross, a fellow graduate of Hale HS. While home he received orders to report back to Laredo AFB, and from there to Lowry AFB in Colorado for accelerated training in munitions handling. Note: The Air Force had pulled 1000 men out of 3 different career fields due to the shortage of munition handlers in Vietnam. After another 14 day leave to return home to his wife, he received orders to Misawa AFB in Japan for munitions training.
After 4 months of training, Jim's unit was sent to Tachikawa AFB for deployment to Vietnam. They were deployed on 3 different C-130 aircraft to Tan Son Nhut Airbase in Saigon. Jim was on the last flight, but while it was taking off there was air abort due to engine fluctuations. After a 10-hour wait, they were finally headed to Vietnam. The flight had to make an unscheduled stop at Taipei Air Station in Taiwan for additional aircraft maintenance. While the men were allowed to deplane to stretch their legs, they were not allowed to leave the vicinity of the aircraft. Once they landed in Saigon, they were put on buses and sent 27 miles to Bien Hoa Airbase.
While at Bien Hoa, Jim worked 12 hour night shifts in the bomb dump. Their unit had frequent contact with Agent Orange, as well as frequent gunfire. Much of their work was under Operation Farmhand (which was the code name for spraying vegetation with Agent Orange to defoliate brush and trees in order to provide visual contact with the enemy. The men in his unit lived in small, crude huts with frequent visits from mice which sometimes nibbled on the toes of the sleeping men.
Jim’s duty consisted of mixing Napalm, filling fiberglass propaganda bombs with leaflets, unloading trailers of bombs, rockets, fuses and other miscellaneous items. Whenever Highway 1 between Saigon and Bien Hoa received damage from the Viet Cong, his unit had to receive munitions by barge at a hamlet located about 7 miles from their base. They drove flatbed trailers to the hamlet at night with instructions not to stop for anyone or anything.
When Jim received departure orders back to the states, he was told he could take the next flight out, but he missed it by mere minutes. While boarding another flight the next day, he learned that the original flight he was to have been on crashed, killing all aboard. “Wow! That was a God thing”, said Jim.
Jim was excited about the military and had wanted to be a career man, but after his experience in Vietnam decided against it, knowing that “no doubt I’ll be returned to Vietnam”. Jim returned to his job at Hallmark, receiving 4 years on the seniority list due to his military service.
Jim worked for Hallmark for 37 years, retiring in 1999. He did not talk much to family and friends about Vietnam. Jim had a brother and a brother-in-law who both retired after 20-plus years in the military. His brother died of heart disease, and the brother-in-law who served at Cam Ranh Bay Airbase, died of cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
Jim was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015. He is now 100% disabled and non-employable. He still suffers from hallucination, although medication is helping. He says, “I am so thankful to have help from the VA out of Leavenworth. They come to my home in Kidder every month and check my vitals every day on Med Tronic’s equipment.” He went on to say “Their help has made it possible for me to stay home longer with my wife of 54 years”. Jim and Debbie have two married daughters (Kris Smith and Dawn Estes) who both live in Cameron. They are blessed with 5 grandchildren and 1 great grandson.
Jim received the National Defense Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, and State of Missouri-United States Forces Medal.