Stillwater News Press

Courage Under Fire 2012

July 9, 2012

Courage Under Fire: Jim Horn

Stillwater man chose to become a Marine

STILLWATER, Okla. — A Stillwater man viewed serving the United States as a choice he needed to make.

“I got involved because I was a child of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, so I’m in college in the ’60s, mid-60s, starting in ’64 when the Vietnam War was blossoming,” said Jim Horn. “Basically, every able man in those days had a choice to make.”

Horn said he had been interested in the Marine Corps since a young age when he and his brother would watch “Sands of Iwo Jima” starring John Wayne.

“It was something that you knew was life threatening, was a tremendous commitment one way or another and a dilema, I think, for everybody,” Horn said.

He had reservations about making the decision. He sought out the counsel of Irving Smith, a pastor at First Methodist Church. He had questions of whether he wanted to serve. As a Christian, he questioned whether he could kill someone, he said.

“Once I got a satisfactory answer from him that was my last hurdle,” Horn said.

He signed up for officer candidate school the beginning of his senior year in college.

Horn’s decision to join the Marines was based on his admiration for their spirit and tradition.

“Marines were basically volunteers,” Horn said. “I knew the background of Marines. They were tough kids who grew up fighting. I decided I wanted to be over there with a bunch of volunteers, not people that had been drafted, some of which who didn’t want to be over there and people who knew how to fight.”

A friend helped Horn by telling him how to prepare mentally and physically prior to the start of school. He told him to get his lungs and legs in condition. That summer, Horn worked at Lake Tahoe, running in high altitude.

“I got in really good shape,” Horn said. “I came back to Stillwater the last month and worked on muscles more and before I left to go back there, there was a Marine barber here ... and I told him I was getting ready to report for OCS and I wanted a Marine haircut, so he gave me one.”

After graduating in September 1967, he went to Quantico, Va., to Marine OCS and began a three year, one month and 27 day journey, he said.

He showed up not only looking the part, but in shape. This paid dividends, he said.

OCS was a 10-week boot camp.

“It’s extremely physical and they try to put you through all sorts of stress because you need to learn how to deal with stress and how to function in a good cognitive manner under the worst possible circumstances,” Horn said.

Following OCS, Horn went to Officers Basic School while still on base for 22 weeks. He learned skills such as map reading and using weaponry, he said. He also chose his preference for his military occupation speciality.

“I wanted to be an infantry officer and I got my first choice,” Horn said.

Graduating on April 10, 1968, Horn had a month off before reporting to Camp Pendleton in California.

“One of my classmates and I were sitting there watching Robert Kennedy’s funeral on the eight of June 1968 and they were halfway through the funeral when the guy knocked on the door and said, ‘The bus is here,’” Horn said.

Horn was on his way to Vietnam.

He eventually became a platoon commander and was part of a group responsible for defending the De Nang Air Base.

“Every warrior’s question, every person that goes to war I think probably wonders how they’re going to respond when the brown matter hits the fan, so to speak,” Horn said.

He said you wait for that moment and your training works. Around De Nang, they had sporadic contacts. More than 50,000 friendlies were nearby. However, the base received numerous rocket attacks. Horn recalls one incident in particular.

“We were getting rocketed and everybody scrambled and dived to get into the bunkers,” Horn said. “And I had a staff sergeant standing over there drinking coffee and he just stood there, drinking his coffee while the rockets were coming in. I looked at him in amazement and I went over and said, ‘Staff sergeant, what were you doing? Why did you just stand here while the rockets were coming in?’ He said, ‘Well, sir, this is my second tour in Vietnam and if there’s one thing I learned from my first tour in Vietnam, it was if it’s your day, it’s your day and if it’s not, it’s not. If it’s your day, it doesn’t make a difference what you do, it’s going to happen. If it’s not your day, you don’t have to worry about it. And I looked at him and I silently said to myself, ‘He’s crazy’ and I turned around and walked off.”

However, as people died around him and he walked out of situations questioning why them and not himself, he began to wonder if the staff sergeant was right, he said.

“My experience was very positive except for some losses and the more personal they are, the closer somebody is to you, the more difficult that is,” Horn said.

After serving 19 months in Vietnam, Horn returned in February 1970 and was chosen to be the operations and training officer for the Military Police at Marine Corps Base 29 in Palms, Calif. This eventually led to a career in the FBI in December 1970 where he worked for more than 25 years. He retired from the FBI in 1996. Following his retirement, he ran a consulting and training business following events such as the Oklahoma City bombing and the September 11 attacks. He officially retired in 2007 after his wife was diagnosed with cancer.

Despite the long journey, Horn said he is proud to be a Marine and calls it a brotherhood.

“We have bonds that we don’t have with anybody else,” Horn said.

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