Military Historian James Belcher, Jr. Speaks in Monterey on November 10

The Highland Historical Society is presenting an evening with James Belcher, Jr.  Mr. Belcher is a Military Historian and Public Speaker on World War II.

His father was in the U.S. Navy in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.  In World War II, he was on the USS Indianapolis when it was torpedoed.

“His ship was most famously known, probably, from the movie Jaws where Quint talked about a ship that sank and 1200 men went down and only 316 survived,” says Belcher. “They were attacked by sharks, along with all the other problems that they had in the water.  My dad was one of those survivors.  He was eighteen.”

Mr. Belcher’s parents met when his father was stationed in Japan during the Korean War.  His mother is Japanese.  His uncle was in the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II and his grandfather was at Nagasaki when the second atomic bomb was dropped.  On the USS Indianapolis, Mr. Belcher’s father helped deliver the first atomic bomb.

“I was fishing with my father, about a couple of weeks before he passed in 2001, and he made a comment to me,” says Belcher.  “He said, ‘If anything ever happens to me, I hope you’ll take care of the guys’ and that basically meant help them out with the reunion.  That kind of evolved into me hearing them and understanding that they all felt their story would die when they died.  I started to assure them that their story wouldn’t die when they died, because myself and others would be telling their story for them and we did that for years.  I‘ve been doing it for years.”

Mr. Belcher served in the U.S. Air Force for four years.  While attending the launching of the USS Indianapolis submarine in 1977, with his father and other USS Indianapolis ship survivors, he was angered by the actions of protestors.  He saw the survivors were not paying much attention to them.  He later told one of the survivors about his anger.

“I’ll never forget him looking around the table and then looking up at me and saying ‘Well, Belcher, that’s one of the reasons we fought that war.  So, they’d have the right to do that’,” says Belcher.  “It just struck me that moment that he was teaching me why I was wearing my uniform.  It floored me.  I got to thinking about that and I’ve thought about it all my life.  I thought as much as I hate to see people burning flags and kneeling and doing all the very disrespectful things I think they do to our flag, and to these veterans, it struck me that these men understood why they fought and what they were fighting for.  I learned a lesson that day.  And I’ve learned a hundred lessons like that over my life with these men and I just feel like our kids need to hear some of these stories.”

He grew up hearing family stories that gave him a unique perspective on both sides.

“I just want all of our non-military families to learn a little bit of appreciation for what these men sacrificed in their lives, because it changed them,” says Belcher.  “It’s taken away a part of them, even those who didn’t die on the battlefield, a part of them really did die out there and we should appreciate that more.  It is my hope, with what I do, that I can help share that appreciation for what these men did and this goes on both sides.  I have a tremendous appreciation for what my uncle went through in World War II as well, as a Japanese soldier.  They were just doing what they were told.  They were protecting their families.  It doesn’t matter what uniform you wear.  A warrior is a warrior.”

James Belcher, Jr. will speak at the Highland Elementary School gym on Friday, November 10, at 7pm.

Story By

Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

Current Weather