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James Montgomery Elder
Colonel, United States Army
Arizona State Flag
Courtesy of his classmates
United States Military Academy Class of 1946

James Montgomery Elder 
No.15882 - Class of 1946 
Died 16 February 1973 in Washington, D.C.,  aged 47 years.
Interment:  Arlington National Cemetery

JM Elder PHOTO  The 1946 Howitzer describes James Montgomery Elder as having a "sense of  humor which took the gloom from the grey walls of the Academy."  That disposition shone into much of the world-Japan, Vietnam, Germany, and most of  the United States; and wherever it went, it dispelled the gloom.

Jim was a son of the Great Southwest, growing up in Phoenix, Arizona. He graduated from North Phoenix High School and immediately entered West Point. Following graduation In June 1946, he proceeded to the Field Artillery Basic Course at Fort Sill.

His first real "duty" station after commissioning was with the 8th Field Artillery Battalion of the 25th Infantry Division in Japan.

During his time in Japan, Jim met and married his beloved Kathy. Their life together was a continuous sharing of ideas; both had a love of the English language and literature, and an inborn ability to write. Jim encouraged and substantively assisted Kathy's writing and teaching career. Perhaps their mutual interest in the written and spoken word was the first great attraction between them.

Jim's career next took a turn that shaped the rest of his Army service, for he was never again far from the newest and most modern tools of warfare. Jim and Kathy returned from Japan and reported to the Guided Missile Course at Fort Bliss. Following this initial schooling in the fledgling missile program, he joined the nuclear weapons program at Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jim then "put it all together" with an assignment commanding an air defense battery near Buffalo, New York; this battery was one of the early units combining both guided missile and nuclear weapons.

After a three year tour in the Nuclear Weapons Office of Headquarters, United States Army Europe, Jim became a student at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. His solid background in new weaponry combined with his ability to express himself, made him a natural selection to remain on the faculty at Fort Leavenworth. His memorable classes profoundly affected hundreds of students during his three teaching years.

Jim's long-time service to the Episcopal Church manifested itself in a number of ways during his stay at Fort Leavenworth. He helped found an Episcopal Mission at Fort Leavenworth and contributed his talents to its sustenance by being a lay reader. He also served as a lay reader and vestryman at Saint Paul's Episcopal Church in Leavenworth. He helped found a chapter of the Brotherhood of Saint Andrew inside the walls of the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, and took his turn as a Saturday Lay Reader for the prisoners. Jim later served as a lay reader at Grace Church and Saint James' Church, Alexandria, Virginia.

Upon leaving Fort Leavenworth, Jim was an advisor to the Vietnamese Army early in that conflict. Following his year in the Mekong Delta, he returned to the States and took command of the 1st Missile Battalion, 43d Artillery, located near Spokane, Washington.

After completing his command assignment, Jim was selected to join the Army General Staff in Washington. He spent two years in the Army Research and Development community, after which he was picked to serve in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. During this assignment, he spent a prolonged period in Vietnam monitoring the effectiveness of newly fielded equipment. His research and development experience on the Army and Defense staffs made him an ideal choice to join the Combat Developments command at Fort Belvoir. His tremendous breadth of interest and knowledge caused him to become involved in almost every kind of development: helicopters, computers, missiles, cinema. After about two years there, his failing health forced his early retirement.

James Montgomery Elder was a man of many parts: soldier, scholar, practicing Christian. He is survived by his wife, Katherine, his daughter, Courtenay; two sons, Keith and Blake; and a host of devoted friends and admiring associates.  The family now resides at 6108 Vernon Terrace,  Alexandria, Virginia.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "As life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the action and passion of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived."  Holmes would have found Jim Elder a man who lived his life full, sharing in the action and passion of his time.


Posted:  10 February 2001 Updated: 5 March 2003  Updated: 17 September 2005
US Military Academy (West Point) SEAL