James Timothy Acklin
Debate Partner, more importantly FRIEND/BROTHER
I did not get to know Jim until my junior year of high school, though we had arrived at Boys Town just months apart from each other. Until my junior year, Jim and I traveled in different worlds. He was the one who cared about his school work and making something of himself. I, on the other hand, was just doing enough in school to get by.
Jim was already a varsity debater when I joined the team as a novice in the fall of 1966. He had been the first to join the debate team, when Mr. Weinerth decided to begin one. We did not get to know each other that first year on the debate team, but that would change the following year.
In the fall of 1967, Mr. Weinerth decided to pair Jim and me as partners, as he said, "I feel my best two debaters should be a team." The decision of Mr. Weinerth had a profound affect on my life that year and continues to this day.
Jim from an exhibition debate we put on for the staff of Boys Town
For Jim and me that last year at Boys Town for both of us, we not only became debate partners but also friends. It was a friendship that would last until his untimely death.
Because the debate team spent so much time together preparing for tournaments and also many Friday nights at hotels during weekend tournaments, Jim and I were able to share our stories with each other.
Jim came to Boys Town in the fall of 1961. Jim had gotten in trouble with the law after the divorce of his parents. He regretted his mistake and took it upon himself to make his parents proud of him...to negate his mistake of the past. Through his years at Boys Town he was often troubled by the fact that his parents sent him away...he was many times in pain.
Jim taught me the importance of studying. He taught me that in order to be a good debater it was important to work; to do the necessary research on the question, to practice speaking. His teachings I am sure played an important role in my moving from near the bottom scholastically in my class to the top 5% in one year.
Jim and me were to win a whirlwind of tournaments in the year we were together as partners. We achieved a record that has not been matched in the 35 years since our graduation.
As I mentioned previously, I did not celebrate Christmas after my first year at Boys Town, that is until 1967. Back then all of us boys attended Midnight Mass after which we went to the dining hall for hot chocolate and donuts. Jim and I met in the dining hall this early Christmas morning and decided to go to his cottage and gather some others to play cards. Before going to play cards Jim pulled me aside and said he had something for me. He had a box which I opened and inside was; a glass window piece with a teddy bear & a heart. The card said, "To a special and hopefully lifetime friend." Yes, I admit I cried as Jim and I hugged and wished each other a Merry Christmas as well as promised to remain friends for a lifetime. Many promise this sort of thing as they graduate high school but it was a promise Jim and I would keep....we were more than classmates or friends, we were BROTHERS in the City of Little Men! The "gift" from Jim has survived 36 years and remains hanging in the center of the living room window wherever I have lived. It was the best Christmas I had of the seven I spent at Boys Town...thinking of that Christmas all these years later still brings tears to my eyes.
Our time together at Boys Town would in months be coming to an end as we both prepared for graduation. Jim would receive a scholarship to the University of Notre Dame, while I received mine for Midland Lutheran College. Jim finished 2nd academically in our class of 134....I couldn't have imagined anyone doing better than Jim but one fellow classmate narrowed Jim out for the top spot.
Acklin, James Timothy, Champaign, Illinois. Arrived at Boys Town November 29, 1961. Academic Course. City Clerk 4; Major letters: debate 3-4; Minor letters: football 2, track 1, debate 2; B Club 3-4; Knights of the Altar 1-2-3-4.
As Jim and I went our separate ways to college, I knew that there went a young man who would make his mark on the world; would not only make his father proud, but also all of us who ever had the privelege to know him during his years at Boys Town. Jim proved me correct!
While at Notre Dame Jim majored in sociology and joined the U.S. Air Force ROTC. He would also meet the future love of his life: ROSE. Jim and Rose would ask Msgr. Nicholas H. Wegner, Director of Boys Town during our years, to perform their wedding ceremony.
Upon his graduation from Notre Dame Jim began a career in the U.S. Air Force. He was to serve as a B-52 pilot instructor at Griffiss Air Base in Rome, New York. When the Air Force introduced the B-1B bomber, Jim wanted to be part of the program and became the 5th pilot trained to fly the bomber. He was to become one of Strategic Air Command's most experienced B-1B pilots with 280 hours of flight on that tragic day of his death.
On that fateful day in September, 1987, Jim, along with 4 other Air Force officers were on a training mission over Colorado when the plane was hit by a large bird piercing the skin of the right wing. The bird shredded a high-pressure hydraulic line. As the instructor, Jim immediately took the controls of the plane. The plane had lost engine #3 and engine #4 was also damaged. There were 3 on the plane who were strapped in to ejection seats, including Jim, while the other 2 would have to don parachutes and jump...the plane was descending and shaking violently. As the plane went into its final dive Jim gave the order for his men to eject. The other 2 in ejection seats made it out safely but for some reason Jim's failed and he died in the aircraft with the 2 crew members who were unable to jump from the plane. It took two minutes from the bird hitting the plane until in crashed into the Colorado range land.
Boys Town and the nation lost a hero that September day. I lost a friend, a brother. I learned of Jim's death a few weeks after his death. Jim, in addition to Rose, left behind two sons and thousands who will forever remember him and cherish the memories they have of him.
Two stories have been shared with me since Jim's death. Apparently former Vice President Dan Quayle spoke of Jim during a visit to Boys Town in 1990. As told to me he said, "Jim was a hero. Jim was an example of a man who took responsibility for his life." "Like Jim Acklin, so many of those before you here at Boys Town have chosen to serve your country and have chosen to make the sacrifice in the name of the cause of freedom." I didn't often agree with Quayle, but on the point of Jim being a hero...I sure did!
The second comes from a letter Rose received after Jim's death from Brig. General Alan Rogers, Jim's Commanding Officer at Dyess Air Base in Abiline, Texas. He wrote:
"Jim was a marvelous officer, instructor pilot and outstanding professional. He truly shaped and built the B-1B CCTS (Combat Crew Training Squadron). His skilled hand and keen mind will live through the excellence that he imparted to his students. No finer pilot flew the B-1B than Jim Acklin! He was an aviation pioneer who made a great contribution to our nation's defense."
Jim, my debate partner, but more importantly FRIEND/BROTHER has been gone since 1987. I think of him often. I think of the times we shared together in hotel rooms as we participated in debate tournaments; of how we laughed as well as cried during some of those times. I think of the many debates themselves that we did and how we both hated to lose, even though we rarely did. I think most of all of the friendship that began as young men of 17 and it endured so much during the twenty years that followed. I miss Jim and I always will.
Labor Day weekend 2002 I traveled to Boys Town. While there I visited the Hall of History. Within the Hall is a tower of brass plates IN MEMORIUM to former staff and boys of Boys Town. I noticed there was no plate for Jim. I could not allow Jim to not be a part of that tower...thus a brass plate has now been placed in Jim's memory so that he will continue to live on in the history of Boys Town, long after he and I are both gone from this earth. As long as Boys Town remains so to will Jim's memory!
Jim is gone....but not forgotten....he remains a part of my life in my mind, heart and soul!