KINGMAN COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) – Chester James is a cattle farmer in Kingman County. Before he started his farm northeast of Kingman, James spent nine years as an Air Force electronics systems officer working at radar stations across the United States, including NORAD.
While James, a Derby High School graduate, was a student at Wichita State University in the mid-60s, he enrolled in the Air Force ROTC program. When he graduated from WSU in 1968, James was also commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.
“I wanted to be involved in the training segment of the Air Force. My first degree was in education. So, I learned to be in the education and training area,” said James. “However, I was told the needs of the Air Force were more important than what I wanted. So, I was sent to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, for 41 weeks of communications and electronics training.”
James would become an electronics systems officer working in radar maintenance.
“When I completed that training, I was assigned to the radar station in Wadena, Minnesota. We were required to have the new line, a distant early warning. We operated both search and height finder radars,” explained James. “All airplanes in the air, our radar was picking them up and feeding the data over to the 23rd Air Division and Duluth, Minnesota. So, our search radar operated 360 degrees, and the FAA was using our radar to fly commercial airplanes also at that time.”
He was reassigned to another radar station in Lewistown, Montana.
“That was a beautiful assignment. The radar was about 7,500 feet above sea level. Set up on the mountain,” said James.
After that radar station closed, James helped open a new radar site in Great Falls, Montana. Then, he was asked to join the 24th NORAD region. There, James was a maintenance control officer.
“That was the best job I ever had in the Air Force. I was responsible for seven U.S. radar sites and seven Canadian sights,” said James.
His next assignment was back home in Kansas.
“I had an opportunity to come back to McConnell Air Force Base to work with the Titan II missile. At that time, we had 18 Titan II missiles surrounding Wichita,” said James. “The Titan II was set in a silo that was about 140 feet deep, and the missile was 110 feet long.”
Turning through pages of an old scrapbook with his wife, James recalled how he suffered a brain hemorrhage in 1975. Two years later, he was placed on permanent medical retirement.
“Yes, I’m very happy with the decision I made, and I would definitely do it again. I have a patriotic approach. We live in the greatest country on the face of the earth, and anyone that has served in the military has an important job regardless of what they did,” said James.
“I take a lot of pride in being a veteran. And I’m grateful that the nation has begun to recognize the importance of our veterans,” he continued.
James went back to work for Boeing in 1980 and retired in 2005. He and his wife, Sharon, have lived on their Kingman County farm since 1972. The couple will celebrate their 58th wedding anniversary in January.
Chester James is the father of Wichita personal injury attorney Richard James of the firm DeVaughn James.
If you want to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Jason Lamb at firstname.lastname@example.org.