Saluting an alumnus’ service, 70 years later

By

Mary Beth Faller

Phoenix native James Agee was in high school when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. Two months after he graduated, Agee became an Army Air Force cadet and began fighting in World War II.

He is a passionate Sun Devil who is humble about his sacrifices.

Now 90, Agee, pictured above with his son Jim, was honored during the Salute to Service ceremonies during the ASU-Oregon football game Oct. 29. As part of the event, the ASU football players wore the Number 42 jersey of Pat Tillman, another patriot who enlisted in the military when the country was reeling from an attack.

Agee and his son, a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, wore matching ASU shirts while the crowd cheered their service.

That honor capped a flurry of events for the two men, including lunch with the football team and a visit with coach Todd Graham the previous week. Graham gave James Agee an autographed football and a Pat Tillman jersey.

“He’s kind of overwhelmed by it all,” the younger Agee said.

ASU’s salute comes more than 70 years after James Agee’s service began, when he became an Army Air Force cadet in 1943. He was a navigator on B-24 Liberators and once flew from Savannah, Georgia, to New Guinea and then on to the Philippines. By the end of the war, he was with the 2nd Air Rescue Squadron flying B-17s. (Agee is pictured at left in 1944.)

The younger Agee said his father didn’t talk about the war very much, but he did say that when he was stationed in the Philippines, the Japanese used to bomb the end of the runway every day.

“He said they would have to go out and repair it and not be able to take off,” his son said.

Then, along with thousands of other young Americans, James Agee went home and resumed a normal life. He took classes at Phoenix College, where he played football, and in September 1948 he enrolled at what was then Arizona State College in Tempe. He majored in education and was editor of the State Press student newspaper during the 1949-50 school year.

Then another war derailed his life plan. In December 1950, Agee was recalled to active duty during the Korean War, flying as a navigator on C-54s with the Military Air Transport Service, first in Hawaii and then in Japan. His mission was to evacuate wounded soldiers out of Korea. Later, he flew supplies to Greenland and North Africa.

When that war was over, Agee came back to Arizona and started his career, teaching at Grandview School, then West High School and finally at Carl Hayden High School before retiring in 1986.

During peacetime, he served in the Air Force Reserve. When he retired in 1972, with the rank of lieutenant colonel, he was credited with 29 years active and reserve service with the Air Force and had accumulated more than 3,400 hours of flying time.

Along the way, Agee earned a master’s degree, finishing in June 1957, just before Arizona State College became Arizona State University. And he married his wife, Loretta, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from ASU.

From his dad, Jim Agee learned not only a love of service — he was in the Air Force from 1976 to 1980 and the Air Force Reserve from 1989 to 1995 — but also a passion for ASU.

“It’s because of him that I’m such a rabid fan,” said the younger Agee, who earned an engineering certificate from ASU in the 1980s.

“He started taking me to games in 1965 when I was just a kid. You see this team that’s just explosive and the fireworks are going off and it was such a big event for us.”

The family has season tickets and enjoys tailgating before the games. James Agee’s only concession to age is a golf-cart ride up the ramp to his seats in Sun Devil Stadium.

“He still loves it,” his son said. “We’re just such die-hard fans.”

To watch the Agees' Sun Devil fan story, visit thesundevils.com .