JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Remembering A War Hero

I’ll pause on this Memorial Day to remember my namesake, U.S. Navy Aviation Machinists Mate First Class Carlyle James Fuglie. He was my dad’s “big brother,” although only about 15 months separated them. They joined the Navy together in the spring of 1942, just a few months after the U.S. entered World War II in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

They were both assigned to the Pacific Fleet, my dad as a radioman on various naval aircraft, and my Uncle “Cap,” as everyone called him, pulled flight deck duty aboard the aircraft carrier USS Belleau Wood.

My dad came home. My Uncle Cap did not. On October 30, 1944, while the Belleau Wood was patrolling with her task group east of Leyte in the Philippines, she shot down a Japanese kamikaze plane, which fell on her flight deck aft, causing fires which set off ammunition. Before the fire could be brought under control, 92 men had either died or were missing. AMM 1C Carlyle James Fuglie was among those listed as killed in the incident.

I was born three years after he died. My mom and dad named me James Carlyle Fuglie. There was no discussion about that. My dad spoke from time to time of his big brother when I was growing up, always with reverence, reminding me of the man I was named for and talking about their boyhood adventures and their exploits as hockey players for Devils Lake High School and what is now Lake Region Junior College. When we visited our Devils Lake cousins as children, he and my Aunt Evy would reminisce about their brother, Cap.

When I eventually joined the Navy and was assigned to an aircraft carrier in the Pacific during the Vietnam War, just 25 years later, I know there some anxious moments in our house and at my cousins’ house. All’s well that ends well.

I made it home for Christmas in 1968, a stopoff on my way to my first duty station after boot camp and photography school. I got off the airplane in Bismarck, a freshly shorn young sailor in my wool dress blue uniform, and was greeted by my family.

Two sailors — my dad and me, Christmas 1968. 52 years ago.
Two sailors — my dad and me, Christmas 1968. 52 years ago.

The next day, my dad told me to put my uniform back on, and he came out of his bedroom dressed in my Uncle Cap’s dress blues — not Navy-issued scratchy wool, but tailored gabardine. When they had sent my uncle’s effects home from the ship, that uniform had been among them. In those days, young sailors saved their meager salaries and bought gabardines as soon as they had enough and were in a port with tailors who did them.

My mom took our picture together. The uniform still fit my dad all those years later. Both he and Cap were skinny kids when they joined the Navy, and my Dad never weighed more than 150 pounds in his life. In fact, after boot camp, he wanted to get into the Naval Air Corps, but they had a minimum weight limit of 120 pounds, and he didn’t weigh that much, so before he went in for his physical, he stuffed himself full of bananas — 12 or 15 he thought he remembered later—and got over 120 pounds. He said he never ate another banana in his whole life.

Anyway, that morning Dad said somewhat tearfully, “You take this uniform and wear it.” I did. For the rest of my four years. And I still have it. It has my Photographer’s Mate insignia on it, rather than my uncle’s Machinist’s Mate. But it has his initials embroidered into the collar CJF, not JCF.

I have his neckerchief and hat, too, with his name stenciled on them. I never wore the hat — they had been discontinued by the time I joined — but I wore the neckerchief every time I put on that uniform, and it’s wrinkled but not frayed today, having been in storage with the cap and uniform for 48 years, there being no more Navy men in our family since I was discharged in 1972.

Today we remember our departed war heroes, including AMM 1C Carlyle James Fuglie. I wish I’d have known him.

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