An honor to serve

Cordova’s James Kulick kept planes in the air during Cold War

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SUMITON — James Kulick was playing baseball at Cordova High School when he received his draft notice in 1953. This was near the end of the Korean War, but rather than serve as an Army grunt, he decided to join the U.S. Air Force. Looking back, he feels his 20 years in the military was time well spent, but it came with a price that he’s been paying for most of his life. After completing basic training with the Air Force, he chose a field that he thought would offer the best opportunity for advancement. It turns out that aircraft maintenance was a smart move. He started his training at in Texas, and through the years he moved to other bases across the U.S. Each duty station offered hands-on training on bombers and other aircraft. He learned early on the value of keeping meticulous records because mistakes maintain airplanes are costly in more ways than one. The 86-year-old veteran remembers in exact detail the tasks he and his crew were responsible for over 60 years ago. It was his field and this attention to detail that helped Kulick climb the ladder for non-commissioned officers.   One duty station that stands out in Kulick’s mind was his time at a hanger in Fairbanks, Alaska, near the Baron Sea in 1956-1957. This was before Alaska became a state. This hanger was less than 90 minutes from Russia. Aircraft maintenance in that frigid environment was a challenge according to Kulick. “They issued clothes to help keep us warm, but it was cold there,” Kulick said.  After he left Alaska when he was between duty stations, he found time to marry Elouvelma (Ludy) Day. Mrs. Kulick accompanied him at Air Force bases in Georgia, North Carolina, and other duty stations. The Cold War with Russia intensified in the 1960s and Kulick remembers this time well. At one point, Kulick and his crew pulled 24-hour duty shifts with 24 hours of rest. This schedule was necessary to ensure bombers were ready to fly on a moment’s notice. “Things were especially tense during the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Kulick said. “No one knew from one moment to the next whether they would be sending bombers into war.” 

Nikita Khrushchev was leading the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War, serving as premier from 1958 to 1964. The U.S. came to the brink of a nuclear war when Khrushchev placed nuclear weapons in Cuba which is only 90 miles from Florida.  “Thankfully, Khrushchev ordered the boats heading for Cuba to turn around which kept us from going to war,” Kulick said. Later, during the early 1970s, Kulich was stationed at Grissom Air Force Base in Indiana. One afternoon Kulich was checking the exhaust ports on an aircraft when a violent storm came up. Winds turned a ¾-inch piece of plywood weighing about 70 pounds into a missile. One corner of the plywood embedded in Kulick’s right thigh. The injury received treatment, but Air Force doctors thought the leg would heal, and in time Kulick was discharged and sent back to active duty. While in Alabama on leave in 1971, Kulick and his wife signed papers to have a new home built in Sumiton. After his leave, his orders came down for him to go to a base in U-Tapao, Thailand. Vietnam was heating up, and the military needed support to keep the bombers in the air. Kulick and his crew were charged with maintaining B52 Bombers that few daily missions to Vietnam which was less than 90 minutes away. Kulick never fully recovered from the injury to his leg. Surgeons in Thailand operated and afterward sent Kulick back stateside. His leg was never the same after that injury. He decided to put in his retirement papers in 1973. He had 20 years and 24 days in the Air Force.  The veteran worked at various jobs after he retired, but Veterans Administration doctors deemed his injury severe enough to warrant 100 percent disability.  Kulick pointed to her picture and said, “Ludy died in 2017.” His eyes teared up as he spoke of her. He started attending church at the Bagley Church of God and the friends he’s made there are a comfort to him. When looking back at his time in the military, he said it was a good experience. “I think there are a lot of young people who would do well to join the military and learn some good skills,” Kulick said.