Norton James
(1919 - 2009)

Norton James

June 27, 1919

September 30, 2009

Nort was born June 27, 1919, near Whitney, Texas, in the Prairie Valley Community near the Brazos River. He was one of eleven children born to Ben and Lena James. Nort spent his early years working with his dad, brothers, and sisters on the farm. He developed a special love for horses and cattle. This experience would be very valuable to him as he later went into the ranching business.
Nort attended Whitney School for a time and then went to work for a local café. He started at the bottom washing dishes and then he became cook and assistant manager. He was enthusiastic and frugal. He always managed to save a little from each paycheck, even though wages were very low during the great depression. Nort always had money when most of his friends were broke. He enjoyed life and always had a smile on his face.
Just before the start of World War II, Nort went to Los Angeles and worked in a restaurant. Later he worked for an aircraft factory for about two months and then the war started. He volunteered and joined the U.S. Army Infantry. He trained at Ft. Bliss in Abilene, TX, earning the rank of Mess Sergeant.
After several months of training, Nort boarded an English transport ship with several thousand other soldiers. When they arrived in England they began to prepare for the invasion of Europe. Nort and his company crossed the English Channel on D-Day plus three. It was the greatest armada of planes and ships ever assembled in the history of mankind. When asked to give a description of this great invasion, Nort said it was indescribable and he would not have missed it for anything.
The division in which Nort served had so many killed or wounded it was completely replaced by the time the Germans were driven out of France. As mess sergeant Nort had to see that the soldiers in his company received food. When the allied invasion forces pushed the Germans almost back into Germany, Nort’s company occupied a small town called Briey in Eastern France. In this town they took over a school building and used it for kitchen facilities.
The administrator of this school building had an apartment in the building where he and his family lived. They had been under German occupation for five years. Nort’s company converted the building into a kitchen, but they allowed this French family to continue to live in their apartment. One member of the family was a beautiful French girl that caught Nort’s eye.

The following is from Odette’s diary – starting Sept. 1944:

Father has opened an extra class room and I see the G.I.’s go inside. I ask Mother if I may go there after the room is empty to write something on the blackboard like “welcome” – and I also trace a map of America. Two G.I.’s came in and I ask them from where they are coming from. I never heard of Kentucky or New Jersey. They laugh and talk and leave. Another came in. He said he is from Texas and he takes the chalk and write, “Whitney” on the bottom of my map. He has stripes and seem to inspect the place. He is slim, blue eyes, long eyelashes, and a beautiful smile. He gave me some gum, and I gave him my pocket handkerchief with lace hand-made. He say his nickname is Jesse James, like the outlaw. I know all about Jesse James, because I have seen Henry Fonda and Tyrone Power in “The James Boys” in 1939
Father has invited the mess sergeant and another cook to dinner tonight and his name is Jesse James. So, I am going to see that slim G.I. again! Our guests came at 6:00pm. We shake hands but they don’t seem to be used to it. We talk a lot but don’t get many points across. Jesse James tells us the name of all his brothers and sisters – some are so funny: Gaynell, Ferbia, Ishmael. I want to laugh.
Jesse James and his 3rd Army stay in my school till September 25. We visited every evening. His company stay there so long because they needed reinforcements. The next step is Germany and the hardship to cross the Rhine River. We did not have time for good-bye. He gave me his address and I gave him a poem in French. He may have it translated someday and could find out how I felt.
He came back twice to see us in October. It was winter time and it snows and he came in an open jeep. We were very happy to see him. We put his feet in the oven and feed him hot soup. We had only a few hours to talk, then he leaves.
In November I received a package from him brought by another G.I. with a note. I like to draw and paint, and it’s a box of crayola and paint. I felt so good that he remembered me. I send him a thank you note.
Germany surrendered in May, 1945. Where is Jesse James? I wrote to him to tell of our change of address. On July 4 I went to visit my brother. On July 6, Jesse James stopped by my home in Thionville. Father talked with him, explained I was not there. He was going to be reassigned, maybe Japan. He left an address in Whitney and ask me to write.
I was heartbroken to have missed him. In my talk with my brother about my acquaintance with Jesse James, Robert said J.J. may be serious about me. It had never occurred to me because of the enormity of such a prospect.

I received a total of ten letters from J.J. in two years. His letters have become my life. He told me he bought a café in North Hollywood, wanted a house and car, and if we are made for each other, we will be together someday. I write to him about events and let him know my future is free.
In August 1947 I obtain a visa. Then I wrote of my plans to Norton James. He did not write back, HE CALLED ON THE TELEPHONE. I could hardly believe it, I heard him say my name, I could not understand his English, there was no translator, I forget all my English, I keep screaming “Jesse! Jesse!” I finally understand to wait for his letter.
I sit on the outside stairs for 5 days waiting for that letter. The postman was as anxious as me. Finally – in that letter, he said he could not become interested in anyone else but me, that he was putting papers together, he had a house and car, and to call him as soon as I arrived at my friend Lucette in West Virginia.
I took the boat to New York on December 9, 1947 and arrived 10 days later after a terrible storm at sea. After staying Christmas in West Virginia, Jesse sent me $100 and told me to take a train to Phoenix. I arrived at midnight and was the only person to get off the train. I was all alone. Then I see a man under a light and it is Jesse James. I could not believe it. He had been waiting for 24 hours, the train had many delays and he wanted to make sure to be there!
He took me to his car, and again I could not believe it, a big black car with no top. He opened the door for me, and he sit by me, he drove and I felt I was touching Paradise. The weather was warm, there were palm trees, stars in the sky, exactly like a movie. We were married the next day. (end of diary entries)

As a chef for the restaurant in the Los Angeles area, Nort saw the demand for good beef. As a sideline he leased pasture land outside the city and began to run cattle. Later he began to butcher cattle and supply customers with beef. Eventually this business grew, so he gave up his job as chef and went into the ranching business exclusively. He was able to lease land at a reasonable price and some land was available at no cost. He also built stables and began boarding and caring for horses. His ranch was used many times by movie and television companies for films and commercials. Nort was an extra in several films.
I asked Nort, in retrospect, if he had his life to live over what changes he would make. The answer was, "Nothing, I've had a good life and I wouldn't change a thing."

Note: All of the above was taken from a short book written by Nort's oldest sister Gaynell's husband, C. Morris Holley, titled "The Story of One G.I. Joe"

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Guest Book (25 entries)
A great story that Mr. james loved to tell and loved to laugh about was way back in 1970 or 71. Geneva and I were up at Mystery Mesa Ranch late one afternoon and Mr James asked me to come along with him to round up a cow that had not come in with the rest of the herd. We drove out to a small pond in a utility cart and he dropped me off about 150 ft. from the the cow. It was drinking and not bothered by our presence. He told me that he would go around to the other side of the cow and on his signal, I was to run towards the cow and yell so it would start heading home. Mr James said it knows where to go, I just needed to get it started. He would pick me up and follow it in. He positioned himself on the other side of the water and signaled for me to start running. I take off for the cow, waving my arms and yelling. The cow actually did start back from all the comotion. What I did not know was that the cows do a lot of their business right at the waters edge. I found this bit of information out after I was well past my ankles in it and had stuck my arm into the stuff to keep from falling. I looked up to see Mr James laughing hysterically and driving away behind the cow. When I got back to the house and was washing myself off at the water spicket, I started laughing just listening to him tell Geneva and her Mother. It was a great story that would come up every now and then and he would always have fun telling it.

Ron Nitti
Ron Nitti (Monica's Dad)
October 11th, 2009
My dear Uncle Nort was a good, kind, honest, hard working, happy man who loved his family with his whole heart. He was so proud of his kids, grandkids,and great grandkids. His wonderful stories were full of humor, his zest for life, and would always bring a smile to your face. We miss him.
P.S. Mom told me Nort's first horse was named "Tot" not "Trot".
Cathy Mott Sheeren (Niece)
October 7th, 2009
I have a strong admiration for good story tellers. Jesse was one of the best. Though I had known him only four short years, I have memories that will last a lifetime. It is true, the sun really does set in the west.
John Noble
October 7th, 2009

I am 9 years old walking home from the bus stop after school. I come up my driveway past the dying ivy ( it costs money to water it) and into my living room. The carpet is two unmatched remnants that meet in the middle of the room....a money saving idea of my dad's. I look for my mom and find her in the kitchen with its turquoise counter tops and slightly chipped pink sink (more of my dad's deals).

My homework is to talk to my parents about fire safety in case I am in the house and a fire breaks out. After going over some of the basics my mom said that I should know where the money is hidden. Money??? We have money??? Anyway she opens the drawer that we keep the potatoes in and shows me that under them and the paper liner was money....more than I had ever least $3000 she said. I was told if there was a fire to "Take the money and run" :)

Making money and saving it was something I learned as a child. Dad paid cash for everything....the house ( yes the house!!!), cars, trucks, bulldozers, tractors, cows.....everything. It taught me that with hard work, saving and patience I could have anything. The question was did I really need it?

I never felt deprived as a child. I was secure and protected and knew dad would take care of me.

One of my dad's bits of wisdom:


I understand that now more than ever.
Geneva Tibbits (Daughter)
October 7th, 2009
I always admired Jesse. A simple man with a good work ethic, a huge heart, and nothing bad to say about anyone. I loved to hear his stories and my favorite was his motorcycle trip to California. He told it to me several times just because I asked him too. He was the salt of the earth and I will miss him. They just don't make them like that anymore!
Ken Collin (Family Friend)
October 6th, 2009
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"In the years that I knew Mr James, he was always kind to me. Geneva and Monica, you are always in our prayers, as will be all of the family. This is a man who will be and is missed by many."
Ron Nitti
October 11th, 2009
"Jesse was the most influential person in my life outside of my family. He taught me how to be a successful cattleman, farmer, and businessman. I owe my value of family and friends to Jesse. Jesse said "don't tell me, show me" and lived by that."
Walt Fisher
October 5th, 2009
"He was a hard working, honest man who would do everything he could to help anyone out. The last of the "Good ole boys""
Jeff James
October 3rd, 2009
"What a man!!! the real deal. When most would settle for a rocking chair, he rode the bulldozer. All the best, our best thoughts are with all of you."
Brandon Fuller
October 2nd, 2009


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