Someone always has to be first, don’t they? The first to be born, and the first to die. The young man that Comanche knew as Jim Bob was the latter…the first Comanche County boy to die in World War II.
It was quite a few years ago when we decided to start a family history section in the Comanche County Historical Museum, and we began compiling notebooks of basically any info that various families were willing to share with us. I think the inspiration for the idea was a series of letters that had been donated to the museum by Hatch Rambo, a friend of Jim Bob Lee, the author of the letters.
Now, you have to understand that I had never heard of Jim Bob Lee, and I certainly did not know his story other than what Missy Jones shared with me at the time…James Robert Lee, known forever as Jim Bob, was the first Comanche County boy to be killed in World War II.
With only that piece of knowledge, I picked up the letters and went to work…and then, I began to read the correspondence between old friends thousands of miles apart, and I must admit those letters and that first notebook touched me like none have since.
Jim Bob was a pilot in the RAF, the RAF because his own country had not yet entered the war. He had flown his missions, done his duty, and his chatty letters showed a very young man who was ready to come home, and that was the problem for me, the reason that as I read and read some more I found myself unable to breathe because I knew the ending to the story; I had already read the final chapter, and I knew what Jim Bob did not.
He would not be coming home, at least not as he imagined. It was a very long time before I went looking for more. What I found came from Ginger and Butch Ferguson, Jim Bob’s nephew.
James Robert Lee was born in Gorman, Texas on November 13, 1920, to Allen Anna Bell McPherson Lee where his family lived until moving to Comanche in 1929. From the time he was just a small boy, Jim Bob was fascinated by aircraft, and he wiled away many hours creating models of his favorites.
Jim Bob attended Comanche ISD and graduated from there in 1937. He excelled in all sports, and was a bright student, causing someone to remark, “Jim Bob was always doing something, doing it well, and not disturbing anyone with it!” Of course, if you know your history at all, you know where America was headed in 1937…but Jim Bob was ahead of his country.
It should have surprised no one that the young man who was not quite seventeen would have wanted to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps; however, the requirement at the time was that one must have at least two years of college to do so. Not to be deterred, Lee found a job at a college book bindery, where he raised enough to pay for a year of study at North Texas State Teacher’s College in Denton.
Without the money to stay in school a second year, the enterprising Lee enrolled in the Government Flying School in Ranger, Texas. He spent three months there before he and Rambo headed off to Canada to join the Royal Canadian Air Force.
It was February 1, 1941.
Jim Bob Lee officially became a member of the RAF on December 13, 1941; however, Hatch was not at his side on this exciting day. Why? Hatch Rambo had failed his eye exam.
Christmas Day of 1941 found Lee in London, the newly turned 21 year old ready to get started. By February of 1942, he had his wings!
Apparently the man from Comanche, Texas by way of Gorman, Texas was an excellent pilot. He was a member of an advanced training unit for fighter pilots who were preparing to join Operational Squadrons, and on April 8, 1942, he turned the nose of his plane upward in preparation for his flight from North Wales to Gloucestershire, and back, the route triangular in nature.
Jim Bob Lee never made it to the last leg of the journey. He was killed in a midair collision over the country of England.
Today he lies in the Oakwood Cemetery in Comanche, Texas.
For more info, visit the Comanche County Historical Museum and ask to see Jim Bob’s notebook.