Jim Holden

Jim Holden holds the certificate making him an honorary member of Air Force security forces in Turkey after he diagnosed a cancer in their commander.

SHREVEPORT, La. -- Jim Holden admits he was headed down the wrong path as a teenager in Hoboken, New Jersey. He would take a turn that landed him in the Air Force -- and combat duty for his country.

"I had stolen a car," Jim said as he began the story of how he and a buddy had a plan to head for Florida.

"We didn't even make it out of New Jersey," he added with a laugh about being stopped by a police officer.

"We didn't know enough to switch the plates on the car or anything. It was about as stupid as it gets," Jim says.

But that brush with the law lead to a serious discussion for Jim and his parents. And that led Jim to the military recruiter's office in 1958.

"If I hadn't gone to the Air Force, I'd have been in jail. That is not a stretch," he says.

An aptitude test put him in the medic field. And in 1970, he was on on alert, flying in a chopper for air rescues of downed pilots in Vietnam.

"If they were injured I would go down and take care of them," Jim said. "We always had a gunship that would escort us."

So Jim says they never drew enemy fire.

"I felt like I was probably one of the more fortunate people as far as Vietnam was concerned," Jim said. "We would pass over a lot of our troops in jungles where they had really come under a lot of fire. And it was kind of nasty. And I visited other bases where I was so happy I wasn't stationed there."

Jim would become a physician assistant, and serve in military hospitals. He even became an honorary member of security forces in Turkey, after diagnosing a melanoma on the commander that others had missed.

"He gave me credit for saving his life," Jim said, proudly holding the certificate.

Jim also made headlines with the rescue of two civilian rock climbers in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona when he was stationed at Williams Air Force Base.

And after retiring as a captain, Jim continued working as a health care administrator in a civilian career.

It all started with a decision as a teenager.

"And ever since ... 60 years," Jim marvels. "Which was very, very rewarding."

Jim retired in Shreveport, having served part of his career at Barksdale. And he continues to serve by volunteering a couple of days a week at the VA center's pharmacy.


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