From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

James Wickes '67

Date of birth: November 24, 1944

Date of death: July 2, 1971

Age: 26

Lucky Bag

From the 1967 Lucky Bag:


From the September-October 1971 issue of Shipmate:

Lt. James Richard Wickes, USN, was killed on 2 July in an aircraft accident in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Thomas A. Edison in California while on search for a missing civilian aircraft.

Born in Indianapolis, In., he was a 1967 graduate of the Naval Academy. After graduation he went to NAS Pensacola for flight training. He then had duty at NAAS Kingsville, Tx., followed by a tour in Jacksonville, Fl. At the time of his death he was attached to VA-122 at NAS Lemoore, Ca.

Lt. Wickes is survived by his widow, Linda Sue, 5610 Nebraska Ave., Tampa, FL 33603; and his mother, Mrs. Betty Wickes of Salt Lake City, Utah.

He was piloting a T-28 at the time.


Photo courtesy of William Belden '67

From the Class of 1967's 50th Reunion Yearbook, courtesy of William Belden '67:

Jim, the son of a Baptist Minister, came to USNA from Moab, Utah, after a year at Baylor University. He brought with him, his western twang, a great attitude, strong values, infectious enthusiasm, and boundless determination. He immediately endeared himself to his company classmates as a loyal friend and leader and was, unquestionably, the most “squared away” of all the 20th Company Baggers.

Encouraged by his uncle, John Jeffries, a Class of 1952 Naval Aviator, Jim set his sights on also becoming a Navy Pilot. He successfully navigated the rigors of Aeronautical Engineering, and experienced the happiest day of his Academy life when he received his flight training date in Pensacola. The second happiest day came when Jim, the 20th Company designated “motorhead”, took delivery of his brand new forest green 427 Corvette Stingray convertible in the spring of 1967.

Following graduation, Jim headed to the beaches of San Diego for the last of the Bagger post-graduation bashes and then off to Pensacola. He proved to be a natural and progressed rapidly though training and received his wings in October 1968. Along the way, he met the love of his life, Sue Tenant, and they were soon married. Jim stayed in the training command as an instructor and then received orders to VA-122 at NAS Lemoore for A-7 training.

On July 2, 1971, Jim volunteered to participate in the search for a private aircraft, which had gone missing on June 26. The aircraft was carrying four passengers, three of whom were Navy pilots from NAS Lemoore. Jim and an observer took off in a T-28 to conduct a visual search of an area east of Fresno in the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains and subsequently crashed into a heavily wooded ridge. The observer survived but Jim was killed in the crash.

Following a memorial service at NAS Lemoore, attended by many of his Academy classmates, Jim was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

We miss him but are consoled by the fact that he died doing what he loved, flying and helping!

Other News

From ABC 7 New York on November 5, 2012

FRESNO, Calif. -- Action News has uncovered an amazing story of survival following the recent discovery of military plane wreckage in the Sierra National Forest. A local schoolteacher out on a hike came across the scattered plane pieces.

Reverend Jon Harris of Roanoke somehow managed to survive on a wing and a prayer that day and now this Virginia preacher shares a spiritual bond with a valley teacher.

The Blue Ridge Mountains serve as a scenic backdrop for the stunning fall colors of Roanoke. The changing of the seasons was not quite complete. The city offers a strong sense of history and an uplifting spirit.

Sunday voices mix with a message on life's choices. But few people have seen their faith tested in the way Reverend Jon Harris has been challenged. Harris told the congregation of the Faith Alliance Church, "My mind went one place and I said the last words on the earth that I was ever going to say, except I get to reflect on them now, Lord here I come."

It marked the first time Reverend Harris talked from the pulpit in detail about an incident above Huntington Lake on July 2, 1971. Reverend Harris is a man of strong faith connected by fate to a Central California woman named Laurel Peterson.

Peterson explained, "I'm adventurous. I hike by myself and stuff." Peterson left her Huntington Lake cabin in Fresno county for a long hike with her dog Bo on August 25th. She came across a sight which would change her life. "I saw it on a rock and I knew that was just wrong. Orange is not part of nature."

The middle school teacher from the north valley town of Salida looked up a hill and saw plane wreckage strewn across the rugged landscape. She said, "That wing part looked so new to me at that very moment. Yeah, I was a little reluctant to go up but I did. You know, you have to. I was afraid there was going to be human remains."

Peterson discovered the wreckage of a US Navy T-28 which left Lemoore Naval Air Station in June of 1971.

US Navy records obtained by Action News show the plane's pilot, Lt. James Wickes, died in the crash but his observer, 30-year old Lieutenant Commander Jon R. Harris, survived.

Harris is now 71. We went to his Roanoke home to turn back the pages of time. Their mission that day was to search for a plane which crashed a week earlier. It left Hanford en route to Lake Tahoe. Three Lemoore NAS pilots were among the four people killed. 25-year old Jerry Casey of Fresno, a civilian, also died in the crash.

While searching the mountains, Harris knew the T-28 didn't have enough power to clear a ridge of tall trees. Harris said, "I knew for probably for a minute, minute and a half that we weren't going to make it over. Just couldn't make it. He was too low. He didn't put the power up fast enough."

The plane hit a tree, shearing off the left wing. Harris recalled three hard hits left him with broken ribs, a broken foot and a badly damaged knee. "That's why all broken bones were on the left side because we hit on the left side like this, bounced up in the air and hit on the right wing."

Harris was still alive but he couldn't help Lt. Wickes. "When all of it stopped and I opened my eyes, his cockpit was completely in flames and I saw his hands up. It was an inferno and the flames were about right here."

Harris was able to crawl away from the fiery crash but mountain conditions are unforgiving. He felt hypothermia begin to set in at dawn but knew rescuers would be looking.

From the highest point he could find Harris reached for his pencil flare gun. He explained, "They had one inch flares and you put it in and just pull down, spring loaded. It didn't give you a flare it gave you a smoke trail."

Harris harnessed the power of the sun. Between the smoke trail and the bright flash of a mirror he shined on the helicopter cockpit, he was spotted and rescued. "I know it happened and it's had a profound impact on life and my faith."

The US Navy documented the crash but retrieval of most everything else other than remains is difficult. Like many other crashes the wreckage sits in the high sierra to serve as a memorial - frozen in time. Forgotten by everyone until Laurel Peterson came along. Peterson said, "I can't even fathom someone surviving that."

She grieved the loss until we told her someone actually survived. "I was amazed, I couldn't believe it. When you look at the crash you say there's no way, there's no way so it's a really an amazing miracle someone walked away from that."

But that wasn't the only time Reverend Jon Harris fell from the sky and had a brush with death. We'll continue his amazing story of survival in part two of our series.

Reverend Harris was stunned we were able to find him. We were stunned by his sharp memory and recollection of vivid details.

He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where his tombstone gives his home state as California.

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James Hicks '67 was also in 20th Company.

Class of 1967

James is one of 34 members of the Class of 1967 on Virtual Memorial Hall.