The Greatest Generation Turns 100


By Jack Smith

100 Img 3547I met Jim Corr at the Panama City Beach Senior Center where he was attending a woodworking class. He had just completed an exquisite bowl. He and his wife Judy were kind enough to tell me his remarkable story.

Unfortunately, I was not the first newspaperman to conduct an interview with Jim. It seems my predecessor was uninformed about how to interview combat Marines. I learned from my own family that it is not acceptable to ask questions about personal feelings during actual combat. Jim was so upset with this journalist that he offered to demonstrate the art of hand-to-hand combat. Jim warmed up when told that my Grandfather had received his wings at Pensacola prior to World War I.

Turns out, Jim received his wings in Pensacola at the start of World War II. Jim grew up in Selma, Alabama, playing football and baseball like most kids his age. After high school graduation he attended Georgetown University until the start of the war. He decided that if he had to go to war, it might as well be with the toughest outfit, The United States Marines.
After Pensacola, Jim and his group were sent to North Carolina for Advanced Fighter Training. On leave, he remembers, “I met one of the nicest ladies I ever met.” She invited Jim and two other pilots to Sunday dinner, a tradition that continued for their time in North Carolina.

100 Img 3512After training, Jim and his squadron VMF 221 were sent to Guadalcanal. While on the island things got “pretty sporty“ as Jim and three other pilots shared a canvas tent. They actually dug grave-like three-foot-deep beds, so if the enemy fired rounds through their tent they would be below ground. Jim’s group, like all marine outfits, brewed their own version of moonshine called Torpedo Juice. It was so bad that Jim had his mother ship him a Steamer Trunk marked “Medical Supplies,” but that actually contained bottles and bottles of Scotch. This group was so successful at downing enemy airplanes that the Japanese called the corsair “Whistling Death.”

After the war, Jim finished college, earned a degree, and became a CPA. After several years and to better serve his clients, Jim returned to school for a Law degree. Can we say overachiever?

In his eighties, Jim got the chance to fly a restored F4U Corsair at the Oshkosh air show. Jim continued to fly after the war and fell in love with the Beach Craft Bonanza and the King Air. His wife, Judy, tells the story of flying down into the Grand Canyon while on a family vacation. When asked why, Jim answered, “Hell, it was easy and nobody was shooting at me.”

Jim turned 100 in 2022, but doesn’t look a day over 80. And yes, I would fly with him tomorrow.