Jim Liester Jr.

Legionnaire of the Month

The next American Legion member with over 60 years of continuous membership to recognize is James Liester Jr. James was born on their farm three miles east of Garretson on November 20, 1932. He attended grade school at Dist. 52 and graduated from Garretson High School in 1950. After graduating he went to work for Ronald Vandersnick. Jim said “I was courting Helen Fiegen from Del Rapids and on January 7, 1953 we tied the knot.”

Only three months after their marriage Jim received his draft notice. He passed his physical and was sent to Chicago awaiting orders. “While I was waiting for further orders I was assigned the duty of ‘fireman’. Basically, I had to check on the furnaces and stoke them with coal to keep them going. My shift was at night, so I had no KP and was able to sleep during the day. I checked the board daily for my orders and after two weeks of checking, the day came when I saw that I was to go to Ft. Lewis WA for Basic Training”.

“Ft. Lewis was probably the wettest 8 weeks of my life. I think it rained every day and even if it was not hard rain, nothing dried out.” One can imagine all the outdoor activities of Basic Training--like hiking in mud, picnicking and setting up camp in the rain (in a pup tent) just how much fun that was. “The only time I got off base was when Melvin Fiegen was coming back from Korea. He looked me up and after he talked to my 1st Sergeant and they let me leave base with him for a short visit.”

“After Basic I was sent to Baker Calif. for Military Police Training. I don’t know how they selected me for that. Ft. Baker was a newer camp with brick buildings right under the west end of the Golden Gate Bridge. We could actually walk under the bridge. This was quite a change from Basic Training. We did a lot of self defense training classes; learning karate and hand to hand combat. We did not train much with M-1’s but mostly 45 Colt pistols. We had weekend passes and no KP. I remember one interesting weekend we took a boat to Alcatraz. I also remember we ate very well. We had all kinds of food and desserts—all we could eat. Our tables, which were set for four, were even decorated with red and white checkered table cloths.”

“After AIT I was assigned to the 504th Battalion at Camp Gordon in Augusta Georgia. This was a very important and prestigious base that had been disbanded after WWII. They were starting the camp up again and many of the furnishings, including all the beds were new. Many of the guys in our unit had college education and were from big cities all over the US. Here I was a farm boy with only a high school education but we all got along really well. Our duty here was pretty easy. It was hot and humid in the summer but we never marched anywhere. Even when we did parades we rode in jeeps. Our unit must have had 40 or more jeeps assigned to us. Part of our job was to patrol and do traffic control. We would check jeeps out and go into town and worked with civilian police. The civilian police even include us on their morning briefings for the day. It was easy duty and a lot like any civilian 8 to 5 job. We even had a gym to practice and play basketball in. Some of the guys on our team were pretty good and we won 1st place in the BB tournament”. (Jim had a photo of the trophy to prove it)

Jim said, “My wife came down for Christmas in 1954 and stayed for a year. We got an apartment in Augusta about 2 blocks from the Augusta National Golf Course where the Masters are played. I didn’t golf and golf was not a big thing in the 50’s so we didn’t think much of it. We started our family when Wayne was born here. But he came early while I was gone. We were doing military maneuvers in Virginia. We were about finished when he was born earlier than expected. So I got back just a couple days after he was born. I remember our hospital bill was $7.50 (for diaper service). I also remember that my starting monthly pay allotment was $63.00. My wife got $92 and after Wayne was born we got an extra $20. We didn’t have any trouble living on that and bought whatever we needed.”

“Some of the other guys in our unit also had wives that came down. They were from all over the country, New York, Indiana, Oregon, California, etc. We came to be good friends and we have kept in touch with each other through the rest of our lives. We have traveled to South Bend, IN. and other states to visit each other. But now after all these years, when you don’t get a birthday card or Christmas letter you know something is wrong. Usually one of the guys will fill you in on what has happened if someone is sick or dies.”

“In 1955 I was discharged and we moved back to SD. In 1961 we moved to a farm NW of Garretson and in 1965 we moved on to this farm that Helen’s brother had owned. We have raised 4 children and lived on this same place ever since. Since Helen has died it’s my job to try to keep the place clean and looking nice.”

Jim concluded our visit by saying: “I joined the Legion in 1955 and have really enjoyed it. We started out small in the old dugout. I still remember when Tom Willems and I cleaned out an area to put shelves on the south wall. We have continued to make improvements. We have had various fundraisers for over 60 years to support the activities of the Legion and Community. I am very proud to say that the Garretson American Legion, Post 23 has been an important part of my life—for the benefit of others. I am pleased to be part of the American Legion and a great post like Post 23 which the community can also be proud of.”

Jim has been a continuous member of Garretson Post 23 for 62 years. He was an early member of the Color Guard and served in that for many years. Jim has also held many officer positions at Post 23, including Commander and District Adjutant for 26 years. Jim, it is because of your dedication and leadership and others like you that we can take pride in the fact that Garretson Post 23 is one of the top Posts in South Dakota. Jim, on behalf of Post 23 we thank you for your dedication and service to our community, state and nation.

Marty Luebke