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James “Jimmy” Tootle passes
James “Jimmy” Tootle passes{
James “Jimmy” Tootle

Jimmy Tootle was born to Harold and Lillie Cox Tootle in 1934 in Tattnall County in the midst of the Great Depression. He and his brothers: Theo, Carroll, Ray, and Marcus; and sisters: Janice, Betty, and Sue graduated from Reidsville High School where they were good students and athletes. They all came to age working in tobacco and cotton fields in those days when wages were about a dollar a day in the 1930s to 60 cents per hour in the mid-1960s.  The Tootle children were raised to carry their share of the family workload as were most of the young people of that era.  They often brought friends home with them to spend a night or a weekend in the Tootle household, and, even though they were guests, they were expected to lend a hand in the household duties.  The late John Conley spent so much time in the Tootle household that he declared himself to be an honorary Tootle. Many of the Tootle classmates put their feet under the dinner table in the kitchen-dining room countless times, but John Conley always reminded everyone that he was the first honorary Tootle.

On Sunday afternoons, a game of softball, basketball or football was usually played in the front yard. Betty could knock the hide off a softball, and was tough under the goal when playing basketball, and she didn’t back up. John Conley often talked about the time when he was pitching to Betty and she blasted a line drive off his shinbone. His first thought was he might have a broken leg. It was a time when there were no TVs, no air conditioning, and not all families had radios. Youngsters created their own entertainment, and the entertainment was always some form of competition at the Tootle home. Sometimes that competition involved a little pain.

As the oldest child, Jimmy was on the leading edge of that family legacy, and his example was followed by the younger siblings.  He graduated from Reidsville High School in 1951 and then graduated from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College before joining the United States Air Force in 1955. He was stationed in bases throughout the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia. He married his wife, Anh, in October 1971, after a tour of duty at Bien Hoa Air Base in 1969.  He retired from the Air Force in 1979.

At that time, Jimmy was a young man of 45, and he took on the duties as a mail carrier in Merritt Island, Florida, where he served 17 years during the golden days of the U.S. Mail Service when mail was said to arrive at the right place on time regardless of wind, rain, sleet, or snow. But that was easy duty, because, in the Tootle household, there were no excuses.  Just get the job done.

Through the years, Jimmy kept up with events in Tattnall County through The Tattnall Journal. As VFW Post 7764 developed a reputation as a strong service organization in the area, Jimmy read about that service in the newspaper.  He qualified as a Veteran of Foreign Wars due to his service in Vietnam, and he was already a member at large within the VFW organization since there was no really active post near his home. He contacted his brother, Marcus, in Pooler to inquire about the possibilities for becoming a member of VFW 7764. He wanted to be part of 7764 since it was an organization that helped veterans as well as community members in need.  Mark contacted Commander Ronnie McCall who put Quartermaster Ronnie Thomas in contact with Jimmy, and Post 7764 had a new member in about ten minutes after they started talking over the phone.

It is not unusual for Post 7764 to have members from other towns and/or states. There are members as far away as California and Arizona, and they keep up with events through The Journal Sentinel and Quartermaster Ronnie Thomas’ frequent updates via group text.  Jimmy often said that he would like to attend a 7764 meeting during one of those times when he was visiting in Tattnall, but the dates just never matched up. Still, he took part in fundraisers by donating to various 7764 programs, and he proudly wore his red, white, and blue VFW shirt with All-State and All-American patches on the sleeves on patriotic holidays in and around Merritt Island. Quartermaster Ronnie Thomas made sure that Jimmy was kept abreast of VFW 7764 events and received his All-State and All-American patches every year.

Jimmy Tootle fit the mold of young men who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II when so many individual sacrifices were made to protect the United States and the free world from bloodthirsty tyrants who hoped to stamp out Democracy.  He expected to serve in the military forces of the United States; it was a given in those days that young males would be required to serve if they were physically and mentally fit.  Jimmy’s Bronze Stars and other service medals indicate that he took pride in that service just like he took pride in making sure letters and other mail arrived on time. It was his job, and anyone raised in the Tootle household was expected to do the best they could. He was not a boastful individual; in a room with less than perfect acoustics, it was sometimes difficult to hear him in a face-to-face conversation. But it was not about being loud and the center of attention; it was his attitude about serving his family and his country that set him apart from lesser individuals. 

At his funeral, his sons-in-law, Jeff Armstrong and Kurt Sears, became visibly emotional when they described how they became his sons when they married his daughters, and both stated they continually learned how to be good husbands and fathers and proud citizens from Jimmy Tootle.  His cousin, Patty Tootle, said he was the quiet but strong leader of the Tootle clan. He loved his country, and he was proud of his military service to America. The Jimmy Tootles among us are the foundation for what made the United States of America great.  We desperately need more like him.  He will be missed.{