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This year, former Air Force sergeant Jim Coady was East Haven’s honored veteran at their annual Memorial Day celebrations. (Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Jim Coady has served his country in the Air Force and his hometown as a fire fighter. This year, the town in which he has lived for the past 50 years recognized him for his service at East Haven’s Memorial Day ceremonies.
Jim joined the Air Force right out of high school and began his service in 1965, during the height of the Vietnam War. Jim says his family served in the military during both of world wars, so being a part of a military family factored into his decision.
He would go on to join the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing to work in the communications center.
“[Me and] a friend of mine were discussing it and we thought it was a good idea at the time,” Jim says. “[The Air Force] is a good branch. That was the beginning of four years.”
With his family legacy and a personal history of teamwork as an athlete, Jim says he was a good fit for the military.
“I’m kind of a team kind of guy. Obviously, that’s what it takes,” he says.
Following basic training, Jim went into technical training for his job with the Air Force. At that point, he began to realize what else he was getting into.
“I was getting letters that people were asking questions about me in the neighborhood. I didn’t know actually what it was at the time, but it was for clearances,” Jim says. “All the people I worked with had top secret clearances.”
Jim says he can’t talk much about what he did during his four years of military service after his training, but that’s alright with him.
“I kind of live my life like that: low key, very quiet,” Jim says. “I really can’t discuss what we did…Even after 50 years, which is hard to believe. It almost seems like yesterday.”
Jim says he’s at an age when looking back on his life yields old memories, things he’s seen that have become a part of history. Growing up in New Haven, he remembers seeing visiting candidates like John F. Kennedy, who went on to become president.
“I came home on leave…and there was a curfew in New Haven because of the riots,” he says. “You couldn’t leave your property because of a curfew and here I am going off to Vietnam.”
In his lifetime, he says, he’s seen New Haven neighborhoods transformed by I-95. Mostly, Jim remembers the great New Haven athletes he played alongside as a former football player, baseball player, and golfer. He was the quarterback for Hillhouse High School football team in New Haven and captain of its golf team.
“As you reflect, you kind of remember these nice things,” he says. “It was a great time to grow up, the ‘50s.”
When he wasn’t doing his top secret duties, Jim was able to participate in the sports he has always loved. For his last year, Jim was stationed at Da Nang Air Force base in Vietnam. But he was also stationed across the U.S. in Texas, Mississippi, and Oklahoma.
“Some of the stations we were at, we had opportunities for athletics,” he says. “I’m a golfer…for 63 years. I had that opportunity.”
In his spare time, Jim joined teams from wherever he was stationed and was a fierce competitor, “But people aren’t interested in that. They want to hear about combat,” he notes.
He was discharged from the service in 1969. Jim says his military career was a positive formative experience that he recommends.
“When my four years were up, I had my experiences which I think all young people should have,” he says. “Most of us walked out of the service with terrific experiences, ready to face life.”
Jim returned from his service to live in East Haven, where he’s been a resident for more than 50 years.
Still determined to serve and work as a member of a team, Jim started a new career as a firefighter in New Haven where he served for 27 years.
“At the time, they were hiring. They went from a 42-hour work week to a 56-hour work week,” Jim says. “A lot of the fellows that went on at the time were ex-military.”
Plus, many of them were ball players like himself, offering plenty of opportunities for him to keep playing. A golfing group even arose from the ranks of the fire department, one that Jim still goes out with on occasion.
“It just seemed like the next step. Everyone’s looking for a career and it turned out terrific,” Jim says. “The guys were just as brave on the fire department as the people I worked with in the service.”
To nominate a Person of the Week, email Nathan Hughart at n.hughart@Zip06.com.
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