Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Oral History Interview with James C. Bishop

Wisconsin Veterans Museum


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00:00:16 - Introduction

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Segment Synopsis: Emily Riewestahl is interviewing Jim Bishop about his military service at the Spooner Memorial Library on 08/08/22. He served in the United States Air Force.

00:00:40 - Connection to Washburn County & Decision to Join the Air Force

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Segment Synopsis: In November of 1980, Jim began working as a Public Information Officer for the Department of Natural Resources. He has resided in Washburn County ever since and retired from the DNR 11 years ago. When he got out of high school he didn't have any plans, so he decided to join the Air Force since his father had served in the Air Force during WWII. Jim had a high draft number, so he knew he wouldn't be drafted but he decided to join anyways. His father served in the South Pacific and was a Radio Officer on B-29's, on many flights over Japan.

Keywords: Air Force; B-29; Department of Natural Resources; Draft; Family; Japan; Public Information Officer; Radio Officer; South Pacific; Washburn County

00:02:12 - Specialty & Change of Orders

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Segment Synopsis: When Jim joined, he put in to fix aircraft engines. It looked like he would be able to, but as he was processing out of basic training in Lackland Air Force Base, a Sergeant questioned why he had put in Vietnam as his first base of choice. Jim said that his oldest brother was over there in the Army and then the Sergeant grabbed his orders and asked him to sit on his bunk and wait for their return. Another Sergeant appointed him as an ICBM (Intercontinental ballistic missiles) mechanic. He later found out they didn't want two brothers in the warzone at the same time. It would've taken a congressional order for him to go overseas. A missile mechanic learns how to take the whole missile apart and work on it.

Keywords: ICBM; Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles; Lackland Air Force Base; Orders; Sergeant; Specialty; Vietnam

00:04:53 - Basic Training & Paradigm Shift

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Segment Synopsis: Jim was stationed in Great Falls, Montana and spent four great years there. In basic training he had a hard time with a Drill Instructor. At the time, Jim didn't know what he was doing with his life. The instructor, Tech Sergeant Minchinton urged him to think about his future and sparked his decision to turn his life around. He started making goals and credits the military for making him who he is today. The instructor told Jim that he was wandering with no sense of direction and the military wants someone with their head on straight. He warned that Jim may have to be sent back to day one. No one had talked to Jim like that before so it made a huge impact on him. Jim would like to think he passed along what he had learned from Minchinton. He is proud of the children he raised. He was a scoutmaster for Explorer Scouts and an assistant scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts, where he hopes he made an impact.

Keywords: Basic Training; Change; Drill Instructor; Goals; Tech Sergeant

00:09:31 - Making the Most of Opportunities & Building a Strong Nation

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Segment Synopsis: He went into the Air Force in December 1969 and got out in December of 1973. When he was in Great Falls, Montana he started writing for the newspaper. So after his enlistment was up he went to journalism school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Then he got hired by the DNR. He credits the drill instructor for his decision to take opportunities as they came his way if they fit his goals in his life. He is a member of the military Honor Guard, a couple months ago he was elected Commander of the Local AMVETS post #190 in Spooner, WI. He believes that Veterans served their community and should continue to serve. A strong community makes for a strong nation.

Keywords: AMVETS; AMVETS post #190; Community; DNR; Department of Natural Resources; Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Great Falls, Montana; Honor Guard; Journalism; Nationhood; Spooner, WI

00:11:53 - Seeing His Potential & Missile Mechanic Training

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Segment Synopsis: The military helped Jim to see what his potential was. Missile mechanics school was grueling, consisted of 8 hours of training, then homework, then Taps, and then sleep. This schedule repeated for 21 weeks. He enjoyed training, in the first week they covered really common tools (hammer, screwdriver, etc.) and by the fifth week they were learning advanced electronics, which was very complex so he needed to study a lot. By the end of training, he was able to take apart a missile completely, at that point, he was a full-fledged missile mechanic. He graduated with seven other guys, though they started with eight. The one guy went section 8, which means he went crazy. Jim did keep in touch with one of his roommates from his time in Illinois via Facebook. He went and met with one of the guys that he was with, but he was not doing well. Overall Jim thought it was a good experience, he liked the comradery, the food, the freedom after doing his job, and spending his free time outdoors.

Keywords: Comradery; Electronics; Food; Keeping in touch; Missile Mechanic School; Outdoors; Potential; Section 8; Tools; Training

00:16:07 - Spending Time Outdoors & Fish Fry

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Segment Synopsis: Jim spent a lot of time in the mountains to hike, hunt, fish, etc. He did a lot of trout fishing in the streams and had a reputation. He would use an electrical fryer to fry his catches and would put on fish frys. The entry cost was a 6 pack of beer. It became a social thing for them to do, eat fish and "talk smart".

Keywords: Fish Fry; Great Falls, Montana; Trout Fishing

00:17:29 - Working as a Missile Mechanic

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Segment Synopsis: When Jim first got there, they needed people to work in the hanger to load equipment. There were 5 or 6 different divisions working there, his job was to load equipment for all of these programs. He felt he was lucky because he got to be in the hanger rather than out in the field like some others. They could be called out in instances such as air pressure changes due to electrical storms that could affect the missiles. They also needed to service the missiles regularly, changing 10-20% of the missile systems each year. He was a licensed diesel truck driver to haul the equipment. They would work from 6am-6pm and then would be off for 6 hours. They would work 3 days on 4 days off, 4 days on, 3 days off. So every other weekend they would have a four day weekend.

Keywords: Diesel Truck Driver; Hanger; Missile Systems; Work Schedule

00:20:33 - Weather in Great Falls, Montana

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Segment Synopsis: Sometimes the hangar would get very cold. In Montana they have something called the "Chinook Wind" which is a warm wind that comes out of the southwest, the desert. Great Falls is maybe 150 or 200 miles from the Canadian border, so the cold weather systems could sit on top of Great Falls for two weeks, it could get down to 30 or 40 below zero. They would be dressed in boots and parkas and cars wouldn't start well. One day during his first winter there he got dressed, walked to work, got done and when he walked out of the hanger he noticed that there was a south wind blowing really hard and it was no longer biting cold. He worked the night shift, from 6pm to 6am. When he was done he went home and slept for 6 hours. When he went out for lunch he saw a guy outside in a tshirt. They laughed when they noticed what each other was wearing. It was 60 to 65 degrees. In just about 6 hours it went from zero to 60, that lasted for a couple weeks and then it got cold again. So he went back into the barracks and changed in to lighter clothes and then his car started up just fine so he drove right over.

Keywords: Chinook Wind; Cold; Great Falls, Montana; Weather

00:24:08 - Choice to go to UW-Eau Claire's Journalism School

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Segment Synopsis: Jim would've stayed in Montana and was all set to go to a journalism school there, until he found out he would have to pay out-of-state tuition. So then he decided to go to school at UW-Eau Claire, which also had a good journalism program. His goal after getting out of the military was to become a newspaper reporter. He wrote for the military base paper and his friends had told him he had a talent for writing, so that is what he chose to do. The military taught him to set his mind on something and set his mind to it to accomplish it. He admits that he was scatterbrained before he entered the service and credits the military for helping him focus and set goals. He almost went into law enforcement since it was a career that ran in his family. Between working in the hangar, taking college courses, hunting, fishing, and the occasional night out life was good. He would encourage anyone to join the military.

Keywords: Goal Setting; Great Falls, Montana; Journalism School; Newspaper reporter; Personal Development; UW-Eau Claire

00:27:25 - Decision to Work for the Department of Natural Resources

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Segment Synopsis: While Jim was in Journalism school, he worked on a special project for his hometown newspaper in Tomahawk, WI. His responsibility was putting together "The Summer Green Sheet" which included writing outdoor recreation stories and following emergency vehicles when the sirens went off. While he was there a tornado went through and he went to the police station and ended asked the lady dispatcher about the tornado. He thought she was cute and asked her on a date. She wanted to finish her credits so she transferred from Appleton to Eau Claire. While he was waiting for her to finish school, he took a job with the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission as their Public Information Officer. While he was there one of his co-workers saw a job posting for a Public Information Officer for the Department of Natural Resources. So he applied for the job and got it. He took advantages of opportunities when they came along. He was offered a job as a Sports Editor, but the pay was just above minimum wage. The DNR job starting pay was much better, enough to raise a family on. Before this, when he was in college he went to the Eau Claire DNR office and asked for a job for journalism students. He ended up getting a job re-writing their water quality pamphlets for about 6 months. He also spent the summer working for a logging magazine after they saw the stories he wrote in the Green Sheet. During the interview for the DNR Public Information Officer position, the interviewer new of his previous publications and was on the board of one of the organizations. So he took each opportunity that came and the sequence of events lined up, so he was offered the position even though there was 111 applicants. He was well qualified, since he earned a dual degree in Journalism and Geography with an emphasis on Land Use and the Environment. So he was a natural fit.

Keywords: Appleton, WI; Department of Natural Resources; Eau Claire, WI; Environment; Geography; Green Sheet; Job Applicant; Journalism; Land Use; Logging Magazine; Public Information Officer; Taking Opportunities; Tomahawk, WI

00:33:52 - Life In Retirement

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Segment Synopsis: Jim loves being retired, he spends his days doing anything he wants to do! He goes up to the Boundary Waters, is a winter camping enthusiast, hiking, backpacking, etc. He also has been in the Honor Guard for years, so funerals take up a lot of his time as well. He built a house on a few acres outside of town with the help of his friends. He still likes to hunt and live off of the land. He just wakes up and decides what sounds fun each day.

Keywords: Backpacking; Boundary Waters; Built House; Hiking; Honor Guard; Hunting; Retirement; Winter Camping

00:34:56 - Honor Guard and AMVETS

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Segment Synopsis: AMVETS is American Veterans and they have been around since the 1940s. They will take in any service branch and their prerequisites for getting in are fairly easy. He was invited to the Honor Guard by a good friend who he used to go up to the Boundary Waters with, Bob Dreis who was also from Spooner but has since past away. Honor Guard goes out and does military funerals including the 21 gun salute and Taps which is the last send off for the individual before they are buried. Honor Guard is also a social club, they get together once a month. AMVETS and Honor Guard both serve the community and the money they raise goes back into the community in the form of student scholarships, support for local Veterans in the community, and other community organizations. It is a civic organization that provides opportunities for service members to continue to serve their community. He has enjoyed his 20 years with the AMVETS and 4 years with the Honor Guard.

Keywords: 21 Gun Salute; AMVETS; Civic Organizations; Community Support; Friendship; Honor Guard; Service; Taps

00:38:38 - Reflection on Military Service and What it Means Now

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Segment Synopsis: Jim credits the military with giving him a start in life. From basic training all the way up, it taught him how to study and prepared him college. He was not a good high school student, so much so that the college admissions office said they usually wouldn't offer him entrance, but since he was a Veteran, they needed to. They warned that if he didn't maintain a 3.0 average, they would have to dismiss him. He maintained a 3.5 GPA through college, which he credits to the discipline that he learned in military training. The GI Bill paid for his education, so he is grateful for that and is dedicated to paying back to his community. He feels lucky and grateful for the experiences that he did.

Keywords: Appreciation; Community; Discipline; Education; GI Bill; Grades; Opportunities; Studying

00:41:07 - Advice to Those Thinking about Joining the Military

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Segment Synopsis: He recommends looking inward and figuring out what your strengths, weaknesses, and interests are and see which branches have job in that area. Try it out and if you don't like it, go work in that field. He has friends who have worked the job they wanted in the military and then were hired when they left the military because they had good training. When Jim got out, his civilian job would've been a rocket engine mechanic, but there wasn't a big need for people with that training. In the Boy Scouts they would joke that if they couldn't get something to work "Jim should be able to do it, he is a rocket scientist". There are so many opportunities out there, the military can provide training for thousands of different jobs. But when you join, make sure you have a lawyer look at the words, since the military often can put you into any job. If you want a specific job, clarify that and make sure that is what you are signing on to. His friend Frank enlisted in the Army at the same time he entered the Air Force. Frank's brother was out in California and right next to the base was the Polaris Missile Manafacture Plant and he wanted to service them so he could live near his brother. Frank wanted to stay in the states. Jim wanted to work on aircraft engines and wanted to see the world, see Germany, put some years in for Vietnam, etc. But when they both got out of basic, Frank worked on engines on an aircraft carrier that went around the world while Jim was working as a missile mechanic in the states. That is the military, they can do a 180 on you. Frank and Jim both had a good experience. Frank would send him postcards from wherever he was at and it bothered Jim that Frank got to travel everywhere. So Jim started sending postcards from Great Falls, Montana and he would write two or three of them and then send them to Frank. Six months later Frank and Jim had leave together and Frank told him that his letters have been all over the world and they went around the whole ship because they were so funny! Jim is proud to have served his country and is proud and honored to serve his community in the way he is doing now. It all started with the military and taking advantage of opportunities. He said, it has been a great ride.

Keywords: Boy Scouts; California; Career Interests; Civilian Jobs; Germany; Letters; Military; Opportunities; Polaris Missiles; Postcard; Vietnam