Utahn — perhaps the last Air Force Iwo Jima veteran — turns 101 on Memorial Day

May 29, 2023, 9:50 AM

James Kimose, Farr West, celebrates his 101st birthday in Ogden on Sunday. Kimose is a WWII marine ...

James Kimose, Farr West, celebrates his 101st birthday in Ogden on Sunday. Kimose is a WWII marine veteran and fought at Iwo Jima. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

FARR WEST, Weber County — Every day.

That’s how often Jim Kimose thinks about his time at Iwo Jima — including witnessing the historic raising of the American flag — and his service in the United States Air Force during World War II.

“It was hell,” he recalled Saturday. “You can’t explain how bad it was. You can’t imagine how many were killed and hurt and burnt. It was terrible.”

Kimose, a lifelong resident of Utah, turns 101 years old on Memorial Day.

Born and raised in Farr West, Kimose worked as a hod carrier prior to the start of WWII, working with bricklayers on construction sites.

The first time he tried to enlist, at age 18, he was told he was too young.

“I wanted to fight!” he said.

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Kimose was “angry” and had an even stronger drive to serve his country. He was drafted into the Air Force in October 1942.

Kimose started his service at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. He also trained as an aircraft mechanic at Fort Sumner in New Mexico, as well as bases in California and Hawaii, before being sent to Iwo Jima.

Kimose remembered how crowded the island of Iwo Jima felt, being only two miles wide and four miles long. He said they were “dug in like a bunch of rats,” with many Japanese soldiers hiding in caves.

“They had to run like crazy to get on the island and not be shot because the Japanese were all over the island,” said his wife, Betty Kimose.

He also remembered watching the flag being raised on Mt. Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945, five days after the Battle of Iwo Jima began.

At the time, Kimose had no idea just how historically significant that moment would become. But it’s something he said he hasn’t been able to forget ever since.

Kimose also shared his memory of the night the first atomic bomb was dropped. On the night of Aug, 5, 1945, he and his crew were told to stay out of the sky.

“We didn’t know about the atomic bomb,” he said. “We didn’t know what the hell was going on.”

They watched the Enola Gay fly overhead. The next morning, they learned about the bombing of Hiroshima.

Kimose’s family said there is a lot he has forgotten about the war — or doesn’t want to talk about.

“That’s a plus, though,” Betty Kimose pointed out. “Some of it he’s wanted to forget, and he’s done it.”

She said she knows most of her husband’s stories by now, but he will periodically tell her new ones, even after 75 years of marriage.

The stories he does share, he tells with humor. He was discharged from the Air Force on Dec. 26, 1945. He recalled the story of taking a cab all the way from San Bernardino to Salt Lake City with a group of four other discharged soldiers.

“I remember it right to the dollar: We paid 83 bucks apiece,” Kimose laughed.

He also has a great fondness for the men he served with.

“They were something else,” he said. “Those were really good guys.”

Fifty-eight years after serving in Iwo Jima, Kimose was reunited with fellow veteran Donald F. Hardy Sr., of Pennsylvania. His daughter Shelley Nelson said there were many tears.

“It was like no years had passed, like it was just yesterday,” Nelson said.

Kimose kept in touch with several of his fellow veterans until their deaths. He believes he is now the last survivor of the U.S. Air Force who was stationed in Iwo Jima.

The war at home

Diane Brown, Kimose’s last surviving sibling, recalled the anxiety of growing up with so many of her loved ones away at war.

“In Farr West when I was a little girl, there were no men,” Brown said. “Every uncle that I had, every cousin that I had, every brother that I had, every brother-in-law that I had — was in World War II fighting. We had no men.”

She said a taxi would come to Farr West every time a family had to be told that one of their family members had been killed. Brown said the women of the town would watch anxiously as they waited to see whose driveway the taxi would pull into.

“It was terrible here, too, waiting and worrying, never knowing who was going to get killed and who was going to make it home,” she said.

After the war

After he returned home from the war, Kimose worked with his father as a bricklayer for more than 30 years. He has stayed active, even laying the brick for Nelson’s house in Plain City just a few years ago when he was 96 years old.

Jim and Betty Kimose were married on April 30, 1948. They have four children: Jim, Buck, Kathy and Shelley. Both of their sons have served in the military. They also have 11 grandchildren and more than 30 great-grandchildren.

“We’ve had a good life,” Betty Kimose said.

“He’s given us a good life,” Nelson added. “He’s all of our hero. Not many people can be the dad and grandpa that that man is.”

Both Nelson and Buck Kimose said their father is always helping someone in need, including building a house for one family and bringing monthly food deliveries to another. When they were growing up, he would sometimes even miss holidays with his family to ensure that other families could have a happy Thanksgiving or Christmas.

“He’s everybody’s hero,” Nelson said.

Related: VA Secretary says Salt Lake City working to ease veteran homelessness

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Utahn — perhaps the last Air Force Iwo Jima veteran — turns 101 on Memorial Day