Mindy Memories

Thursday, April 28, 2005

In Memory of my Great Uncle Jimmy

My Great Uncle Jimmy (my mom's uncle) died late last week and I found a lovely obituary about him. He was the oldest living of my mom's aunts and uncles and I believe he is now in Heaven laughing it up with his wife Evelyn and my grandmother. He and Grandma were two peas in a pod and every time he visited us they just laughed and lauged and it was contagious. He was really a great guy, straightforward, and had a wonderful sense of humor. My living grandmother who I talk about often went to school with him and tells me he was quite the little devil when he was younger. :)

JAMES HARWOOD WAGAR APRIL 9, 1918 - APRIL 20, 2005 James Harwood Wagar, who came of age during the depression and became a decorated World War II bombardier, died Wednesday at his home in Oakdale after a brief illness. He was 87.

A native of upstate New York, Mr. Wagar came to California in the early 1950s after attending the University of Kansas, where he studied civil engineering. After working in administrative positions for several companies, he became a cost analyst for Lockheed Missiles and Space Co. in Sunnyvale, from which he retired in 1984. Known for his dry wit and courtly manner, Mr. Wagar was a staunch conservative who was proud of his Republican roots.

He was born April 9, 1918, in Middlesex, N.Y., the second child of Fenton and Florence Wagar. His mother died when he was 10 months old and he was raised on his family's farm, mostly by his grandmother, Fannie Drake.

After graduating from high school during the depth of the depression in 1934, Mr. Wagar set off on his own, working his way up and down the East Coast. He later said he never had trouble finding work because dairy farmers always needed extra help. When World War II broke out, Mr. Wagar enlisted in the Army Air Corps with the intention of becoming a pilot. He completed his training, but during a routine solo flight, he realized he was late for meeting and cut across restricted air space to return to base. A persnickety superior noticed the transgression and attempted to have Mr. Wagar drummed out of the Air Corps.

Mr. Wagar lost his chance to be a pilot, but his skill in mathematics resulted in him landing a spot as lead bombardier. He was assigned to the 320th Bomber Group and shipped to the Mediterranean in 1943. Flying B-26 Marauders out of Sardinia, he led bombing raids on German positions throughout Italy and southern France. He flew 65 missions in all, as commanders kept raising the number of missions required before airmen would be returned stateside. His Air Force records show that he earned two presidential citations, the Air Medal with six clusters, the French Croix de Guerre and a Purple Heart. He eventually returned to the United States to train other bombardiers.

He left active duty in November 1946, but served in the Air Force reserves for nearly 32 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1978.

In 1942, while stationed near Houston, Mr. Wagar met Billie Lamb. They were married in February 1943. The union produced six children from 1945 to 1965. After the war, Mr. Wagar attended the University of Kansas on the GI Bill.

He later moved briefly to Colorado, then to northern California, where he settled in the East Bay. The couple lived in Hayward for several years, then moved to Castro Valley in February 1960. The marriage ended in 1973.

Mr. Wagar remarried 11 years later to Evelyn Hale, who also worked for Lockheed. They lived in Milpitas and Watsonville before moving to Columbia in the Sierra foothills. They settled in Oakdale in 1993.

Mr. Wagar was an avid fresh-water fisherman and enjoyed deer hunting until his late 70s. He was an active member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, chapter 3154 in Sonora. In retirement, Mr. Wagar crisscrossed the nation many times, visiting relatives from Arizona to New York. He enjoyed listening and dancing to Big Band music, particularly Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, and he was known for his nifty steps on the dance floor.

A highlight of each year was the annual reunion of the 320th Bomber Group. Among his children, Mr. Wagar was renowned for his straitlaced demeanor. At the 2002 reunion in Kansas City, however, his Air Force buddies passed around photos of Mr. Wagar partying and mixing drinks at the base bar.Always mindful of his reputation, Mr. Wagar had a quick explanation. I was the bartender because I was the only one who wasn't drunk, Mr. Wagar insisted. Somebody had to do it.

Mr. Wagar's wife, Evelyn, died of a heart attack in 1999. Mr. Wagar never really got over her death. In his last two years, Mr. Wagar remained in his home under the care of his youngest son, Bradley Wagar.

Mr. Wagar is survived by six children: Robert Wagar of Yountville; Sandra Gerrard of Santa Cruz; Sheri Borland of Fort Worth, Texas; James Wagar Jr. of Morgan Hill; Kit Wagar of Kansas City, Mo.; and Bradley Wagar of Oakdale. He is also survived by 13 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.


  • At 7:58 PM, Blogger Dianne said…

    I'm sorry for your lost Mindy.
    My grandmom's sister passed on last year and she was the last of the greats. She had just had a birthday like your Uncle Jimmy.

  • At 9:06 PM, Blogger Faith Ann said…

    So sorry to hear about your great-uncle. It sounds like he had a good life and it's so nice that someone took the time to write such a lovely tribute to him.

  • At 5:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi Mindy,

    This is Kit Wagar, Jim's son. We met at Arlington before my dad's burial service. I was doing a bit of ego-surfing to find where my articles had been published and I came across your blog. Thanks so much for your thoughtful posting about my dad. It made my day.

  • At 7:28 AM, Anonymous Vince Perrone said…

    OMG! Thank you for this.

  • At 1:12 PM, Blogger Bret Wagar said…

    Today is Memorial Day, May 28th, 2018. I did a google search of my grandfather, James Harwood Wagar Sr., and found this.

    A very touching tribute and something I needed for my soul :)

    Miss you Grandpa, I will forever be so proud of you.

    Bret Wagar


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