James Miles Combs

Army of the United States
07 November 1949 - 07 May 1970
San Jose, California
Panel 11W Line 121

Combat Infantry

Purple Heart, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign

The database page for James Miles Combs

27 Oct 2006

In memory of a man who was loved by many and respected by all ... James Miles Combs (aka- JUNGLE JIM), killed in action 1970-05-07

From the wife of a dear friend who was with him to the end.

05 Jun 2007

It took five tries to shoot this rare photo of Jim. He would strike the required pose: the serious soldier, the Army's lean, mean, green, killing machine. Then, right before the photographer hit the button, poor Jim would break into his signature, ear-to-ear grin, replete with eyes sparkling in unbidden defiance and infectious delight.

It was hopeless; he just couldn't help himself. At first, the rest of us certainly weren't helping by making monkey faces behind the camera. After our DI lost his cool and threatened GAWDALMIGHTY against every sorry excuse for a human being in the room - especially MAGGOTPUKE Combs - the crowd grew uncomfortably quiet. No one dared blink, let alone snicker.

It was all to no avail - DI hollering, Jim serious, shutter opening, Jim smiling. Following each failed attempt, the level of verbal abuse reached new, unimaginable heights of disciplinary desperation, as the statue-like Jim barked out the proper, submissive responses: "No, Drill Sergeant; Yes Drill Sergeant; I WILL wipe that stupid smile off my stupid face, Drill Sergeant!" Not quite satisfied, the DI would glare at him, at us, at the cameraman, and slowly, very deliberately step back. Right on cue, Jim's ever-present, rubbery smile would betray him once again. Now it was getting serious ... for everybody but Jim.

The only way the Army finally obtained their false portrait of our spontaneous comedian was when the now-wiser cameraman was able to capture Jim's stony-faced facade while the DI was still spewing out invectives from three feet away. Unfair! They caught him off guard!

Jim was one of those irrepressible free spirits who lived in the absolute present - didn't talk much about his past, didn't think much about his future. From what little he had imparted, I gathered that he grew up in Canada in an orphanage, could not cite any family except some distant aunt he never knew, drifted down to California, and ended up in the Army. So what's to know? Here we are; let's live! And we did, to the fullest.

I met him in this life for only four short months, but it seemed like an eternity. We trained together at Fort Lewis in '69 during Basic and AIT. Maggots with no claim to real soldier status, Jim and I were nonetheless proud to be considered among the best grunts in the company at the time. We could outrun almost anyone, scored high on all the courses, and became proficient in the weapons and tactics of combat infantry, Eleven Bravo Ten.

Of course, none of that nonsense was what made us the best in the eyes of those who really mattered: our own platoon. And we were respected by these guys mostly because of Jim's completely irreverent attitude against all authority. I was honored to be his close ally and fellow rebel. We sneaked out at night every chance we got, broke every rule we could, and defied the bastards at every turn. The most important thing we did, however, was to help each other and the rest of our buddies get through a terrible ordeal when no one else seemed to care about us. We wouldn't have made it with our sanity intact without Jim's contagious laughter.

One of the toughest moments in my life was shaking his hand as he stood in line with our unit to get immunity shots and fly out of Oakland Army Base. Five hours earlier, they held my orders after my dad complained about having two of his sons being deployed to Viet Nam at the same time. I was sent to Germany, and Jim was sent to his death. As the door closed between us, forever, my friend looked back and flashed a last smile.

He didn't really die, though. He lives in my head and gets me through hard times. I just hope the jungle that he disappeared into and the bullet that took him out didn't wipe the smile off his face completely. How could Nam not have turned him into another hard-bitten, cynical soldier? After four months of combat, it probably did. But whatever evil tried to kill his spirit, I am confident that it did not ultimately succeed.

It's funny; after all these years, I can still see his smile and still hear his laughter. It's what keeps me going. So take a moment and look into those eyes. You'll see the Jim Combs I know: always on the verge of smiling, and always failing in his best effort to take seriously anything or anyone ... except his buddies.

From a friend,
Ryan Lawlor

The point-of-contact for this memorial is
the wife of a dear friend who was with him to the end.

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 27 Oct 2006
Last updated 12/05/2007