Jim and Wilma and bean salad sandwiches

Jim and Wilma Reynolds
Jim Reynolds

A week or so ago I got a call from a local resident, who asked if I’d like to interview a World War II veteran who’d just had his 90th birthday. Sitting at my cluttered desk with a deadline looming before me, I admit I hesitated before cautiously saying I’d consider looking into it. Now, I’m glad I followed through. Jim and Wilma Reynolds live in Lewisburg and will celebrate their 70 years together on Mar. 31, 2017.
“I’m no war-hero,” Jim was quick to tell me when I arrived. “I just wanted to serve my country.” Jim enlisted when he turned 18, like thousands of men and boys who crowded recruitment centers across the nation after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the event that united Americans like nothing else since. Though still in high school, he had enough credits to graduate early, and so he did.
When he went to enlist, he said he wanted to join the Air Force, but they said he had “bad eyes.” The recruiter asked him whether he wanted to sign up for the Army or the Navy. Jim said the Navy, and the recruiter said, “Great, you’ll make a terrific infantryman.” Jim went through training and was subsequently sent to Manilla to prepare for the build up to invade Japan, when the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, effectively ending the war.
When he’d fulfilled his two year enlistment, he returned home to Ronceverte “a rich man,” he said. The Army paid him $21 a month, but combat pay made it rise to $90 a month. “We got a ration of cigarettes each month, but since I didn’t smoke, I sold them to the Filipinos for $10. I also got a ration for beer. Since I didn’t drink, I came home with $1,100 in my pocket. Pretty good for a kid who made 33 cents an hour working at Krogers before the war.”
Jim recalled his only claim to fame as a veteran happened in April of 2010, when he was invited to sign up for the first Never Forgotten Honor Flight, an event he said he’ll never forget. The Never Forgotten Honor Flight is a Wausau, WI-based organization formed in November of 2009, whose goal is to fly veterans who served during World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam era to Washington, DC, to visit the memorials erected in their honor. Jim said the vets were feted “at the biggest dinner you ever saw.” The vets were honored by a gauntlet of appreciative well-wishers. The experience was clearly moving for him.
As we sat in their living room, Jim and Wilma described their early lives. Jim was brought up in the west end of Ronceverte. He was the 10th of 11 children. He said he and his siblings got their chores done in the morning so they could go down to the river to swim or fish. In the evenings after everyone sat down to supper, the grown-ups would sit on the porch and discuss the affairs of the world. Life was straightforward and simple then, he said, and without modern conveniences, everything was done the hard way. The only foods his mother got at the store were flour, coffee and sugar. Everything else, he claimed, was made, canned or grown at home.
“The world is so different now,” Jim said, reflecting. It’s a strange contradiction, that while we now have every convenience and time-saver, he said, no one has any quality time to spare anymore.
Wilma was also the 10th child in an 11-child family, and her early life was spent in the orphanage at the Davis-Stuart Group Home, where she learned practical living skills, like how to bake bread when she was eight years old. She also learned the importance and value of Christian teachings, which she still strictly maintains every day.
They both attended Greenbrier High School in Ronceverte. Jim was a senior when Wilma Brown (her maiden name) was a freshman and claims he didn’t meet her then. She certainly knew about him though, even sat across from him in study hall.
They didn’t actually meet until after he’d returned from overseas. The Ronceverte movie theater was a big attraction in those days, showing two movies for 25 cents, plus, bingo was offered during the intermission. Jim caught sight of her there one Friday night. “She had beautiful flashing eyes,” he said, recalling that she wore “a red sweater and skirt.” What she was wearing that evening was remembered, but not what movie was showing. “She won my heart,” he said.
Wilma didn’t finish high school. “Came close, though,” she said with a smile. She and Jim were married in March of 1947 when she was 17.
The couple had four children, three daughters and one son. They now have eight grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren. One of the things the family enjoys when they get together is bean salad sandwiches. A family favorite Wilma learned from Jim’s mother. She still makes them. The simple recipe calls for pinto beans cooked ‘til they’re good and soft. Mash them up a bit and add mayonnaise, chopped onion and celery, top with salt and pepper and spread the mess on good bread. That’s it.
Life for them is quieter now. Jim still enjoys making wooden toys and birdhouses in his workshop. Mornings take a habitual pattern as he brings Wilma her coffee with cream while she reads in bed. “I’ve spoiled her rotten,” he said. Then they hold hands while catching up on the news. At 90 and 86, respectively, these two fortunate people have obviously shared a rewarding life together.
“The Good Lord willing, I’ll take care of Wilma as long as I can,” Jim declares.
As I stood to leave, I got the famous “Reynolds Wrap,” a special hug from both of them. Then Jim sang a song for me, titled, “You Belong to My Heart.” He said it came from an old Walt Disney film, “The Three Caballeros.” It was their song.
I left with Jim’s advice on how to make a marriage last resounding in my head.
“Hang in there like a hair on a biscuit, and you’ll make it!”

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