Shelby County WWII veteran passes away
By CHRISTINE BOATWRIGHT / Staff Writer
Siluria native James Wesley Reach served his country for 30 years. The World War II veteran passed away Nov. 15, 2011 at the age of 86 in Huntsville. Reach was close to his family and was never without a joke or story, niece Linda Moore said.
“He was a notorious jokester and teased the kids. He just adored his family, from his parents down to his fourth, fifth, sixth cousin, it didn’t matter. He was a true people person,” said Moore, an Alabaster resident.
Reach was born on Nov. 5, 1925 in Siluria. He joined the Navy at 18 years old in 1944 and served in WWII aboard the destroyer USS Stormes.
“Mr. Reach was on the gun deck when an enemy plane came into view through the smoke of battle,” Moore wrote as a part of his obituary. “When the suicide plane hit, Mr. Reach was only 30 to 35 feet from where it struck, but he escaped with only a piece of shrapnel in his leg.”
Moore asked her uncle what happened to the piece of shrapnel when it was removed from his leg.
“He told me he had a machinist on the ship make it into a ring. He said, ‘When I got home, I gave it to a girl. If I want anyone to know who that was, I’ll be the one to tell them.’ In other words, it wasn’t Aunt Beth,” Moore said, laughing.
Reach reenlisted in the Navy at the end of the Korean War. He spent three years on a tanker in the Panama Canal Zone. He was later transferred to the USS Randolph, an aircraft carrier involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis blockade.
The Randolph twice served as the primary pick-up vehicle for astronauts returning from the space flights, namely Virgil Grissom and John Glenn, Moore wrote.
“He served coffee to the first person that ever went to the moon when he dropped into the ocean,” said sister Frances Reach Watts, an Alabaster resident. “When he came aboard the ship, Wesley served him his first cup of coffee. He was a 30-year veteran, and had lots of interesting things happen to him.”
Reach then became a naval recruiter and was named Recruiter of the Year in 1967. He retired from the Navy in 1971. When Reach returned home, he and his wife, Beth, moved to Huntsville to be close to her family.
“He was a mighty good man, a good Christian man,” Watts said. “He was a fun-loving fellow. He was just a good fellow all around. We all adored him.”
Reach is survived by his wife of 62 years, Maybeth Turner Reach, Huntsville; daughter, Patty Reach McCarley (Scott); grandson, Wesley McCarley of Huntsville; sisters, Frances Reach Watts, and Adele “Tiny” Reach Kirkland of Alabaster, and many nieces and nephews.