In his eloquent editorial remembrance, KXLY's Mike Fitzsimmons told us that when he was with Jim Shively, he strongly sensed he was in the presence of greatness. Jim's life was a compelling confirmation of the accuracy of Mike's assessment. Hollywood's pool of gifted screenwriters would be unfairly challenged to draft a more inspiring script than that of Shively's remarkable life.
Jim grew up in Spokane Valley and was an honor student at West Valley High School. He loved to suggest, tongue in cheek and sparkle in eye, that he might well have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, if only his fledging freshman team baseball coach, Jud Heathcote, had exercised a more compassionate judgment of his "vast array of offensive and defensive diamond skills." Upon graduation in 1960, Shively entered the Air Force Academy. The rigors of its training regimen led Jim to ponder withdrawal. Instead, after reflection and refocus, he applied himself with renewed vigor and graduated in the upper ranks of his class. His superior scholarship merited entry to Georgetown University, where he earned an master's degree in international relations.
The Air Force then selected 2nd Lt. Shively for advanced pilot training for its elite fighter -- the F-105. Upon completion of his training, Jim was assigned to an airbase in Thailand. On May 5, 1967, he was to fly over the flak-infested skies of Hanoi. It was his 69th mission, flying a pre-set bombing pattern, which he unwaveringly held to in spite of heavy fire. His F-105 suffered a shattering hit, and he was forced to eject. Landing in a rice paddy, on the outskirts of the enemy capital, he was quickly captured by ground troops.
Shively would courageously endure nearly six years of barbaric captivity in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton." His cell consisted of a tiny, hot, rat-infested room, sans shower, and with only a wooden bucket for disposal of his bodily wastes. For more than 2,000 days, this habitat and an unchanging diet of water, rice and diluted pumpkin soup for half the year, and water, rice, and diluted spinach soup for the other half, were his daily lot. In the initial stages of confinement, he suffered brutal beating and torture; later, extreme deprivations and abuse would become commonplace. The harsh character-strengthening anvil of his POW experience was, however, to forge a stronger man. The emaciated figure who emerged from his cell was even more steely than the brave young pilot who entered. Jim's POW release date was Feb. 18, 1973; 33 years later, to the very day, this priceless patriot would leave us.
After a brief convalescence, Silver Star recipient Shively was honored at a White House reception and was afforded a hero's welcome home. Beginning a new chapter in his saga, the former pilot executed some dazzling maneuvers. He wooed and won the hand of his soul mate, Nancy Banta; he graduated from Gonzaga's School of Law; and he and Nancy began to raise their cherished daughters. Marrying Nancy and raising Amy, Jane, Laura and Nicole were, by his own concession, his greatest accomplishments.
Soon afterwards, Shively was vigorously recruited by Democratic leaders to run for office. This was to be a first step in a plan to elect him to the U.S. Senate. Jim respectfully declined; Nancy and his girls would remain his focus. Sen. John McCain, a fellow POW, has established an impressive senatorial record; Shively's might have equaled or surpassed those elevated benchmarks.
In private practice, his reputation was sterling, and soon Jim was asked to join the Eastern Washington U.S. Attorney's office. He accepted, and in an exemplary 20-year career there, he would rise to become the supervisor of both the criminal and civilian divisions. It would be a Herculean task to identify a more respected public official. His admirers are legion.
He was a selfless volunteer mentor to high school and Gonzaga college students, and a regular guest speaker at Gonzaga University political science classes. He created a profound impact on his appreciative audiences. He literally and figuratively personified the noble code of "Duty... Honor... Country."
The memorial service for James Shively will be held Friday, March 3, at 1 pm at CenterPlace, 2426 N. Discovery Place, in Spokane Valley's Mirabeau Point Park.