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Heroic Army Aviator, ’61 Grad, Enters Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame

Jim Scott, Tactical Officer USCC 1972-75 and soon after earning his aviator wings.

The Georgia Military Veterans’ Hall of Fame, located on the capitol grounds has inducted a 1961 graduate. James Armitt Scott, LTC retired, entered on January 29, 2020 before a crowd of 500 well-wishers that including Governor Brian Kemp, and other distinguished guests, family members, classmates, and several graduates whom he mentored as a USCC tactical officer. The Hall of Fame selected Jim recognizing his distinguished valor and service. He is one of the most decorated combat leaders of the Vietnam era. His award citations and testimonies of witnesses described him as a courageous, yet calm, and humble hero.

Scott was one of 15 veteran finalists among many applicants who served during wartime and distinguished themselves for service or valor. Currently there are 115 veterans in the Hall of Fame.

Extraordinary Career Begins
For Jim it all started when, in 1956, he enlisted in the Army as a private. Born at Ft. Sherman in the Panama Canal Zone in 1938, Jim grew up in a military family and was influenced by his father [USMA 1937] and a 30 year WWII veteran. After finishing basic training, he attended the United States Military Academy Preparatory School, enabling him to enter West Point and then graduate in 1961 as an Artillery officer. Jim completed Airborne training, Ranger School, and Flight School. This career shaping choice was influenced by his future father-in-law. Jim says, “her [Kelly Blair] dad was a long time Army aviator, one of the few. He convinced me that in order to take care of her appropriately, I needed to graduate from Flight School. So after some self deliberation [he] decided on the same path” Soon after graduation, he and Kelly married. They had met at West Point and completed the circle, “for better or for worse”.

Heroism emerges
In June 1965, Jim arrived in Vietnam and joined the 219th Head Hunters Aviation Company, a combat surveillance battalion in support of the Republic of Vietnam forces. His plane was retrofitted to carry two rocket pods, said to be the only armed L19, “Birddog”, in Vietnam. Frequently cited for exceptionally valorous actions, Jim courageously engaged the Viet Cong with rockets, directed artillery fire, and coordinated Air Force low level fighter strikes, exposing himself to deadly enemy fire during each pass. He was awarded his first Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for these heroics in October 1965 and received his 2nd that December. Jim also received a number of other awards and decorations: the Purple Heart, a Bronze Star Medal for counter-insurgency operations, the Air Medal with V device and 14 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star. After returning home, Jim continued to receive recognition, this time being named the ‘Army Aviator of the Year’. Jim says, “it came out of the blue and meant a lot to me”.

Gallant Army aviator’s legacy continues
By June 1967 Jim was back in Vietnam, taking on the mission of a UH1-Huey gunship platoon leader. At the same time he had an unexpected surprise, discovering that brothers, Vince [USAFA]and Alan [USMA 1963], were in Vietnam. Jim tells it this way: “I had just finished a mission and was headed over to the Officers’ club when I saw a guy walking with a funny gait, and I said to myself,’ I think I know that walk’, and sure enough, it was my brother. He had just landed in country and was joining an Engineer battalion; “we were all there at the same time.” Jim says that unfortunately, they did not see one another very often.

The family reunion did not distract Jim from his primary mission as a gunship platoon leader. February 3, 1968 his platoon was called on for support of ground forces that had been hit with enemy fire and had them pinned down. When Jim flew several passes over the area to determine insurgent positions, his gunship was hit multiple times with enemy fire. Despite extensive damage to his aircraft and continuous enemy ground fire, he continued the attack until his tail rotor was hit forcing him to return to base camp.  While circling in he realized his own landing pad was taking incoming enemy mortars. Ignoring the dangerous situation, Jim pressed on to get on the ground and then triple timed across the strip to another gunship and lifted off, racing to return to the embattled ground troops. During the renewed fight, this chopper also took multiple hits and Jim was painfully wounded. Unable to continue the attack, Jim summoned up his training skills to safely land his crippled craft and crew. For this extraordinary heroism, Jim was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, our nation’s second highest award for heroism and another Purple Heart. In a subsequent operation in March 1968, Jim received the Silver Star for volunteering to land his gunship in support of a medical evacuation helicopter that was unable to lift off. Once more Jim was at the controls of gunship under heavy enemy fire. And again he demonstrated heroic qualities while rescuing the wounded. Looking back on both tours of duty, Jim played down these heroic acts explaining, “I fought with a great group of guys and my performance was largely due to those around me. We were all just doing our job.”

Jim Scott surrounded by Classmates accepted the honor of being admitted to the Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame. Gary Webster, Will Conley, Larry Butterworth, Don Sawtelle, Courtney Rittgers, Buck Shaffer

The Corps embraces a heroic Tac
Following his Vietnam tours, he was selected for graduate school at Purdue University where he earned a Masters’ Degree followed by his assignment to West Point as a company tactical officer. Once more Jim embraced opportunity.  This time Jim would be giving back to the next generation of graduates: teaching and projecting the attributes of character embodied in West Point’s hallmark: “Duty, Honor, Country”; to mentor future leaders in all branches of service. While West Point had changed since 1961, Jim’s soldierly attitude had not!

One cadet reported that in their first leadership meeting, “Maj Scott shared the best definition of leadership I have ever heard. Leadership is getting people to do that which they would not otherwise do. What I appreciated most was his willingness to allow those in leadership positions to figure things out for themselves and not merely present the approved solution. While we made mistakes, as he knew we would, he afforded us the opportunity to learn from our errors and grow as future leaders. That has stuck with me throughout my life, and I have applied it in both the military and business world.”

Another cadet recalled,” Maj. Scott had the ability to relate academic, physical, and disciplinary issues to life experiences of his own as well as those of others. Our anxiety decreased when we realized that he was there to build on and not to tear us down. That was a pivotal reaction for me and a great lesson in leadership.” Another remarked, “Maj. Scott’s goal was to apply leadership for constructive purposes not punishment. His approach was to impart to cadets lessons that would be with them throughout their military and civilian careers.” Another valued learning experience was described by several cadets as the Scott’s, including Kelly, helping our families learn the importance of caring leadership, dedication and commitment to the Army. “I think I can speak for those of us who were lucky enough to have had him as our Tac and Kelly as his teammate. Team Scott made a lasting impact on our lives long beyond West Point,” said one former cadet.

During Jim’s tenure as a Tac the George Washington Freedom Foundation recognized and awarded his skills of expression in his essay entitled, “What Price Freedom”. The Commandant of Cadets, BG Phillip Feir, presented Jim this award in 1974.

While these words have been intended to cite Jim’s induction into the Georgia Military Veteran’s Hall of Fame, clearly his service to our country is a legacy extending well beyond the battlefield, touching the lives of West Point graduates. Today Jim and Kelly Scott reside on their farm in middle Georgia where they have raised emus, ostriches, and rheas, but Jim’s ear remains alert for that distant trumpet calling him back to arms.












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