A few hundred friends, a dozen American Legion members, and many members and relatives of Jim and Frances Cazares, attended Jim’s funeral on Saturday, March 11, 2017, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Cypress, California.
John Fay, married to Jim’s granddaughter, Shayleen, presented the finest eulogy I’ve ever heard. I asked John for a copy so I could publish his excellent eulogy in this column. I have tried to condense John’s finest words from his five pages.
Jim Cazares was born on July 10, 1926, in East Los Angeles. He was the youngest of twelve children. His five older brothers fought in World War 2, and all came home alive. The six sisters worked at Clifton’s Cafeteria in Los Angeles. While Jim’s brothers were away at war, and his sisters were at work, Jim did the household chores. He earned money on his newspaper route.
He attended Trinity Middle School, Audubon Jr. High, and Manual Arts High School. After he finished the 11th grade, he proceeded to explore his technical skills in radio electronics.
World War 2 had started in 1939. America declared war on the Axis enemies in 1941 after Pearl Harbor. It was during this time that Jim began studying electronics at the Frank Wiggins Trade School. One of his teachers, Mr. Warson, asked Jim what he really liked to do. His immediate response was “Radio Electronics.”
Six months later, Jim became licensed as an officer on ship by taking the Radio Telegrapher Test. At age 17, in 1943, Jim was awarded a Federal Operator License he used for the next fifty years.
When Jim went to the San Pedro shipyard, and being highly specialized in the electronics technology of that time, he was assigned to a ship and was told he would be sailing to a port overseas in a week.
Not yet 18, with his mother’s permission, Jim became a Merchant Marine cadet. He was bussed to Port Hueneme to work on the Angus McDonald Liberty Ship. Jim felt intimidated being surrounded by US Navy seamen,. For his first thirty days at sea, he spent the biggest part of his day “hugging a bucket” and eating saltine crackers.
The ship sailed to Milne Bay in the South Pacific where Jim and his mates prepared to move into Japan, to support the war. Jim’s job aboard the ship was to decode communication. He was nicknamed ‘Sparks’ due to his ability to make things work on the cue of his fingers.
After the US dropped the atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, all convoys were sent back to the States. Shortly after arriving home, Jim, still in uniform, went “ship-hopping” with crew-mates. They went to the Panama Canal on the O. B. Martin, and to Europe and Germany on other ships.
Jim experienced the testing of the atomic bomb while in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. A “city” was built on the island so they could gauge the amount of destruction one atomic bomb would make.
Again, back home with his family, Jim was drafted into the Army. Before going to the Army base, he and his brother, George went to the Aragon Ballroom in Venice Beach. They spotted a lovely, young lady across the dance floor. Jim thought, “What a pretty girl. She looks shy, but happy.” Jim introduced himself to Frances. They danced almost endlessly. Jim was glad he wore his ”elevator shoes” so he would appear a few centimeters taller.
His first date with Frances was to go to Lake Arrowhead for a day at the lake and enjoy a nice dinner. But, as it so happened, Frances had an allergic reaction to the vodka they drank. Soon after, they went home. He thought, “Love is a crazy thing and I will do anything to keep mine going.”
At the time of the Korean War, Jim had to report for Army duty. He was assigned to a base on the east coast of the United States. There were so many things he wanted to do back home, especially to be with Frances.
She wanted to be with Jim. She thought up a “clever plan.“ The Army received a telegram stating, “Frances has a heart condition and needs Jim Casares to return home immediately.” Jim flew back to California to check on Frances.
From then on, Frances and Jim quickly became closely involved. “Sneaky” Frances knew what kind of man she had. The happy couple married on May 26, 1956.
For Jim to continue working in communications, he returned to the Merchant Marine and worked as a radio operator while sailing on the “California Bear.” He made the Pacific Ocean trips to Vietnam with the military for seventeen years. There were some scary times. While serving on another ship “The Green Springs” was docked while loaded with a full load of ammo. Nearby was an “ammo dump” which was blown up. This was also a “close-call.”
Meanwhile, Frances maintained their household and their three boys while Jim was away. He missed many birthdays and some holidays.
Jim loved to dance so he and Frances danced often. They enjoyed the music of the “Big Bands” like Harry James, Benny Goodwin, Lawrence Welk, and others.
Jim bowled weekly with old friends. He was a member of the Westminster Senior Bowling League. He enjoyed cooking chorizo and eggs as a special delight for Frances.
When Jim was asked about the historical events in his lifetime, he said, “WWII was of peak interest to me and the time we spent in the South Pacific preparing to enter Japan. It was also an extreme experience because of the people that were affected by the radiation exposure.”
Jim Cazares retired at the age of 68, but he was a member of the Emergency Radio Group called RACES with the Seal Beach Police Department. He was also a member of the Seal Beach American Legion Post 857, and the Long Beach Elks Club Lodge 888.
Jim became a grandpa with the birth of his granddaughters April and Shayleen, and grandson Cory. He and Frances went to all of their activities including softball, baseball, soccer and basketball games, and attended numerous school functions. All the grandchildren were an integral part of his life. Jim became a super-great grandpa to Stephanie, Carly, and Caiden. For several years, he played “Santa Claus.” Jim considered all of his grandchildren real treasures.
Jim’s advice for the next generation is, ”Take a patient and educated approach with gradual steps into the career of YOUR choice.”
Frances and Jim celebrated their 60th Wedding Anniversary. Jim also loved the surprise birthday party with many friends and family members as he celebrated his 90th birthday at the El Torito Restaurant.
Jim Cazares lived every day of his life to the fullest with honest enthusiasm and good humor. He was dearly loved, and will be truly missed.
Bill Thomas of Rossmoor is a Veteran of World War II, and Past Commander of VFW Post 4048, and American Legion Post 857. Contact Bill at [email protected].