Jim Stokes

StokesIn the 1950s and ’60s, the draft was a reality for most young men who were physically fit enough to serve in the armed forces.

In 1961, when I was in my senior year at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, I applied for a Navy scholarship. At the time it seemed like a good idea because, if you qualified for the scholarship, met the physical fitness and health criteria, and were selected as a recipient, you could use the scholarship to pay tuition and fees at any college or university that: (a) would accept you; and (b) had a Navy ROTC unit. The deal also included a deferment of the draft, a monthly paycheck for out- of-pocket expenses (as I recall, the amount was modest, but it was “walking-around” money), and (I erroneously thought) kicked the military service issue a long way down the road.

I was fortunate to receive a Navy scholarship. Among other schools I was interested in, Holy Cross stood out. The college had a long history of involvement with the Navy, dating back to hosting an officer candidate program during World War II. The Jesuits at St. Peter’s Prep had nothing but good things to say about it.

“Looking for a few good men”
The ROTC program led to a commission as an officer in the Navy or in the Marines. The candidate had to make an election to pursue a Navy or a Marine commission at the end of the first year. For some reason, I took the Marine option. It involved two summers in Quantico where the Marines did everything they could reasonably do to test your resolve to pursue a commission in the Marines.

Stokes marinesAt my Holy Cross graduation in 1966, I received my diploma and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. My next step was to return to Quantico in the summer of 1966. Like all newly commissioned Marine officers, I attended The Basic School, where my contemporaries from all of the Marine ROTC units in the country and I spent six months in training, learning how to lead a platoon of Marines in ground combat.

During my time at Holy Cross I was introduced to Eileen Brosnan. We fell in love and married in September 1968. (We now have three children and eight grandchildren.) By then, I had completed flight training and was a member of a squadron flying the Phantom aircraft with a squadron that was working toward a deployment to Vietnam. Once we deployed, Eileen and I didn’t see each other until my squadron was withdrawn from Vietnam and re-positioned in Japan.

Shot down and back to work
During my tenth month “in country,” while flying a mission in support of Vietnamese Marines against what we believed to be North Vietnamese troops dug in on or near the border between Vietnam and Laos, my back seat radar intercept officer (or RIO) and I were shot down. We ejected, and were picked up after some excitement by U.S. Army and U.S. Marine helicopters. We got two days off and went back to flying.

James StokesA short time later, having previously been trained as forward air controller, I was sent to Laos to serve with a Vietnamese infantry unit as an air liaison officer. The unit was supported by Australian Army personnel and U.S. Army helicopter units. My team included a group of U.S. Marines who were trained to establish and control landing zones and to call in air strikes when needed.

While I was in Laos, my squadron, VMFA 232, was withdrawn from Vietnam and re-positioned in Japan. The squadron was sharing responsibility with a U.S. Air Force unit and with Japanese and South Korean squadrons, for encounters with Russian aircraft that were probing the territorial boundaries of ocean areas claimed by Korea and Japan. When I returned from Laos, I was transferred to Japan and re-joined VMFA 232.

More importantly, after I returned to VMFA 232, Eileen was permitted to join me in Japan.

New adventures
After Japan, Eileen and I were on our way to Kaneohe Bay Hawaii. Our first child, Erin, was born in a military hospital on Oahu. During our time in Hawaii, I took the LSATs. After a trip to the East Coast for interviews, I was offered admission to Boston College Law School.

My decision to enroll at BC Law was, in large part, a result of the interviews with Dean Huber, Professor Glendon, Hiller Zobel and others who had a positive approach to dealing with older “delayed vocation” students. They were welcoming and understood, as best they could, what older students were facing when returning to an academic environment. They also were aware of, and sensitive to, the demands placed on those of us who had families and those who were still involved with reserve units, because we either needed the money for living expenses or had a remaining service obligation to the military.

Mandatory-curricular activities
Those obligations, for example, often required us to participate in annual active duty events, which not only took us away from our families (and sometimes from law school or other obligations) for significant periods of time, but also to attend drill weekends or, occasionally, late on a weekday evening, to fly to some distant airfield to deliver parts required to repair a broken down airplane. We also sometimes served as all-night-long “adversaries” for Canadian Air Force and U.S. National Guard exercises over Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and U.S. territory, after which, when the sun rose, there were classes to attend and questions asked to which one was supposed to offer a coherent response.

Lessons learned
Notwithstanding, or perhaps because of, my parallel universe in military service, on active duty, and in the reserves or whatever while at BC Law, my military experience helped me and, I suspect, many of my peers, to keep things in perspective and to function over the years as better legal advocates for clients and as mentors for those who followed us.

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