I lost my father on December 14. I’m not really ready to write about it yet–suffice for now to say that I was devoted to him, and even though he was 91, I wanted more time with him. He bought me my first computer back in the early 1990s when I begged him, “It will help me finish my Book.” You know, the Book, the Great American Novel every writer wants to write. Dad said, “You’ll never finish writing a whole book.” How well he knew me–he set me a challenge, and now I am on my 41st novel.
What follows is the obituary I wrote, with information gleaned from his own memoirs. We sent it to the Washington Post, who, perhaps not unexpectedly, ran a greatly edited version. My family likes this one better…so here it is.
I love you, Dad.
James R. Golden survived jumping out of a burning P-51 Mustang on
D-Day, eleven months of life as a German WWII POW, a brutal march of
over 34 miles a day in Germany’s worst blizzard in 25 years, and an
emergency appendectomy in a makeshift “hospital” during the war.
After so many brushes with death in so short a time, Fate gave him a
pass for nearly seven decades, during which time he continued to make
significant contributions to country, friends and family. Golden died
on Wednesday, December 14, at the Virginia Hospital Center from
complications of cancer at the age of 91.
Born in Leesburg, Florida, on September 7, 1920, Golden was a graduate
of Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, in 1942–which he attended
on an unusual combination of two scholarships, Glee Club and football.
The war hastened a courtship with fellow Leesburg resident Elizabeth
Colson, a beauty queen and Cypress Gardens model (later to do
professional modeling with D.C. fixture and upscale specialty store
Julius Garfinckel & Co. when Golden’s career took him to the area.)
They were married on October 3, 1943, and Golden left for Bottisham,
England on December 16.
While serving with the 8th Air Force and the 361st Fighter Group,
Golden flew both P-47 Thunderbolts, known as “the Jug” to the pilots
who loved them, and P-51 Mustangs. The fighter planes were known as
“Little Friends,” and their pilots were dearly loved by the crews of
the “Big Friends”, the bombers such as the B-17 and the B-25, that
they escorted and protected. Golden’s most satisfying mission
occurred on April 13, 1944. Golden and another pilot escorted a
crippled B-17 returning from France, driving away six German FW-190s.
When the bomber pilots were forced to ditch the plane in the English
channel, Golden signaled Maydays to the air-sea rescue units and
helped guide them to the floating B-17. The grateful crew was given
the opportunity to meet the pilots of their “Little Friends” who had
saved their lives. Twenty-five years later, the survivors of that
mission invited Golden to attend their own reunion.
His 48th mission is recorded by author Danny Morris in the book Aces
and Wingmen II, vol. I, p. 24: “6th June 1944: The day finally
arrives and the 8th flies 1,873 sorties. James R. Golden of the 361st
Fighter Group is the last Allied fighter pilot to be lost on the day
when an oil line in his Mustang B7-A, 43-6977 breaks and he is forced
to step over the side. The following day he is betrayed and taken
prisoner by German troops.”
In his own words from his memoirs, Golden describes the jump from the
plane and his final and 48th mission: “I glanced over my left shoulder
and saw the chute pack blowing out behind me. I had not yet realized
that somehow my leg straps were unbuckled, which left the chute pack
flapping in the breeze and took the ripcord ring out of my reach.
After I was able to stop my violent tumbling I reached back with my
left hand and pushed the pack down until I could reach the ripcord
with my right hand. When I pulled it the chute blossomed–but without
the leg straps to hold me in the chute the harness was jerked
completely over my head and I was left hanging precariously by hands
and arms.” The violence of that incident would have repercussions 65
years later, when damage to his spine and and pelvis would render him
unable to walk without assistance.
Golden landed in a small town near Dieppe, France. He was taken in
and hidden by a sympathetic French family, but his whereabouts were
revealed to the Germans, who came for him the following day. Golden
was taken to the infamous Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Germany, where,
less than two months earlier, 50 POWs were executed after attempting
to escape. The incident became known as “The Great Escape,” and when
Golden arrived at the camp, he saw large posters proclaiming “The
escape from prison camp is no longer a sport!”
Golden remained there until the night of January 27, 1945. From the
27th to the 29th, the south compound of Stalag Luft III was
marched–during one of the worst blizzards on record–to Spremberg,
then were loaded into boxcars to Moosburg. While there, he underwent
an emergency appendectomy and was in what served as a hospital
recovering when liberation came on April 29, 1945, when General George
Patton’s Third Army troops and tanks moved in. For his service,
Golden was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with
three Oak Leaf Clusters and the Prisoner of War Medal.
Upon returning home, Golden attended the University of Florida School
of Law in Gainesville, graduating in 1947. He and wife Elizabeth
moved to Washington, DC, in 1949, where he served two years as the
aide to Congressmen Syd Herlong, two years as Legislative Attorney in
the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, and seven years as
Legislative Assistant and Administrative Assistant to United States
Senator from Florida, Spessard L. Holland. In 1958, Golden worked
closely with Holland on obtaining statehood with Alaska.
Following his government service he joined the Ford Motor Company and
retired after twenty-two years in service in Civic and Governmental
Affairs in the southeastern United States and Director of
International Governmental Affairs in Washington, D.C. and Ford’s
world headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. In 1978, after relocating to
Arlington, Virginia in 1972, Golden traveled with Henry Ford II to
China, where he was a guest of Communist Chairman Deng Xiaoping.
Golden was active in many organizations in Washington. He was the
second president of the Florida State Society, and served as vice
chairman of the board of the Meridian House International. He served
as president of both the Stetson and the University of Florida Alumni
Clubs. He chaired the International Trade Committee of the American
Motor Vehicle Association and the Industry Sector Advisory Committee
for transportation to the Department of Commerce during GATT
After retirement from Ford Motor Company in 1982, Golden served as
senior vice president of the International Management and Development
Institute in Washington, and was president of the P-47 thunderbolt
Pilots Association, Ltd., based at The Wings Club in New York City.
He was a long-time member of the choir of The Church of the Covenant
in Arlington, and the Washington Golf and Country Club.
Mr. Golden is survived by his wife of 68 years, Elizabeth Colson
Golden, and three children: artist/photographer Elizabeth Golden of
Asheville, N.C.; entrepreneur and business owner James R. Golden, Jr.,
Arlington, VA.; and New York Times bestselling author Christie Golden,