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By Teresa Simpson
Whitman County Gazette 

Veterans Corner - Jim Burton


April 20, 2023

Carla Burton Keifer | Submitted

Mark Proudhon, Jim Burton and Carla Burton Keifer hold a Quilt of Valor presented by Marilyn Bryant.

PULLMAN - Pullman local Jim Burton enlisted in the Air Force in December 1955.

Talking to the recruiters, he thought he was going in to be a pilot at the time.

"At the time, they didn't need pilots," he said, noting that the military is like any other big business and needed other people.

"I couldn't pass the physical that they wanted me to for a pilot," he said, "so I took other options."

Burton was a medic in the service, and he explained that if anyone were going to shoot at him, he'd give them his AF1915034O.

When he first entered the Air Force, his station was at Parks Air Force Base out of San Francisco.

Originally from Montana, Burton explained that when he went to Parks, the temperature in Montana was 30 degrees below zero, he almost froze to death in sunny California, with temperatures at thirty to forty degrees below zero.

Burton explained that it was an exchange like all big business, thirteen weeks of a boot camp or what they also called rainbow camp when he arrived.

He explained that the term rainbow came from the fact that everybody dressed like where they came from.

"I was from Montana, so I got a lot kidding about being a sheepherder," he said, adding that his parents had a sheep cattle ranch, so they called him a sheepherder for a while.

Burton explained there was a transitional time in the Air Force: thirteen weeks of basic training to eleven, in which they took those who had been there the longest and made them instructors.

"I'd been there two weeks," he said, "I didn't know how to march, and I had forty other kids my age. So I was trying to teach them how to march."

Burton wore his cowboy boots most of his training because he didn't get his clothing allotments for almost two months, and the boots assigned didn't fit.

Burton's first instructor had been in the military his whole life and was a career military man who had gotten in trouble a time or two, so the advice he left Burton with has been something Burton has lived by since.

"He told wide-eyed kids how it was going to be and how it had been for him," Burton said.

One of the things that he said that stuck with Burton the most was that it's ok to try and better yourself and make yourself do what you need to do, but don't shut off if it doesn't work out.

"Keep at it and make yourself happy," Burton explained his instructor told him, adding that his advice included always being truthful regarding what they want and never completely trusting anybody.

After boot camp, Burton went to Montgomery, Alabama, for medical training.

"I couldn't tell people anywhere other than Moses Lake, Moses Lake was my base," he said, adding that he drove his mother nuts because she couldn't understand why they couldn't come to see him unless he told them a time.

He also worked at Moses Lake Hospital as an orderly, where he met his wife, a nurse's aide before she finished school in Spokane to be a medical record librarian.

Burton was allowed to go to college, shorting his military career by three months, which was called an early out. But he was on a twenty-four-hour callback.

He married his wife, making her a military wife for a month, and then he came to Pullman where he washed dishes for USDA research, and she put him through college, with some help from him, he added.

He then became a safety officer at WSU.

"I didn't get out of the military until I retired. So the day I got my retirement from WSU was the day I got my certificate saying I'd honorably served in the military," he said.

"I'm a very opinionated person," Burton stated, explaining that he believes every person should be required to do government service for at least two years without regard to their physical, mental, or social condition.

He stated that they'd perform their service time between their eighteenth birthday and may have an exemption for training until their thirtieth birthday. Burton noted that everyone should perform the service with no exceptions.

"If you want to be a doctor, be a doctor, the service needs doctors, they need lawyers, they need social workers, they need caregivers, and these people that go in, I think that this society is going to be responsible for them anyway and I don't think there should be any excuse for not going in," he said.

He explained that people need to be proud of themselves, and the only way to face a problem is to power through it.

"You don't have to be a gun-toting stormtrooper; if you want to be, you can. If you want to be a sniper, you can be a sniper. I didn't want to be," he added.

More than anything, Burton advises anyone wanting to join that the military is an excellent way to get away from home and find self-worth. He added that self-worth is something that every individual needs.

Burton was discharged in 1959, lives outside Pullman, and has received a Quilt of Valor from the North Olympic Peninsula Quilts of Valor.

Burton is grateful to Marilyn Bryant and Kathey Bates, who made and quilted the quilt.

He shares his stories and experiences with his kids and is proud of his time served.


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