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The Madison Record
Members of Unit 229, American Legion Auxiliary, Mary Downs, at left, and Olivia Downs, hold the Quilt of Valor that Jim Justus, seated, received during the celebration of his 100th birthday. CONTRIBUTED

Friends, family celebrate with Jim Justus as he reaches 100 years old

MADISON – Family, friends and fellow veterans guaranteed that James ‘Jim’ Justus would have a birthday celebration to remember. Justus certainly qualified for a special gathering . . . he recently reached 100 years old.

Justus told his family that he was “very much looking forward to turning 100 years old.” The party’s planned date was rescheduled from June 2 to June 22 at Madison Village at 6016 Wall Triana because people in Justus’ everyday circle tested positive for COVID-19.

At the party, “he was given an inscribed flag case from American Legion, Post 229 in Madison,” Jean Downs said. Downs is President of Unit 229, American Legion Auxiliary and Post 229Vice Commander.

In addition, Justus received the Korean Ambassador for Peace Medal, a special honor for every American who served during the Korean War, either on the front line or in support positions.

Sam Bertling with Legacy 4 Korean War Veterans Foundation contributed documentation about that war. Mary Harris, North Alabama District Coordinator for Quilts of Valor, conducted a ceremony to present the symbolic quilt to Justus. The Quilts of Valor Foundation believes quilts are synonymous with healing. Volunteers create a high-quality quilt that they present to deserving veterans. (qovf.org)

Jim Justus was born in McRae, Ark. on June 2, 1922. When he was 20 years old, Justus joined the Army Air Corps (later named ‘Air Force’ in 1947 after World War II).

In December 1947, Justus married Nell DeFord in Shreveport, La., where he was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base or AFB. Their first child, Jimmy Scott Justus, was born in 1950 when the Justuses lived at Keesler AFB. Eleven years later, their second child, David Justus, was born while the family was assigned to Rome AFB in New York.

Justus qualified as a Fighter Pilot in 1948. He fought in the Korean War from 1950 to 1952. He first worked as an aircraft mechanic; after joining the Aviation Cadet program, he later graduated from Bombardier School. He was promoted and served as 2nd Lieutenant for 18 months.

Justus then served as 1st Lieutenant, Captain and on to Major. He retired with 21 years in the Air Force in 1963. Jim and Nell Justus moved to Madison in 2003 to live near their son David and family.

To recognize veterans like Jim Justus, Downs established an outreach program in 2021 to identify every veteran, along with each spouse of a veteran, in Madison’s assisted living and memory care facilities.

“We honor them throughout the year. We’ve been able to send Christmas gifts, Valentine’s Day presents and Easter baskets, along with honoring them at Veterans Day,” Downs said.

Activity directors at each facility update Downs about their residents. “A couple have reached out for veterans’ family members looking for assistance with veteran benefits, which we’ve been able to help them with,” Downs said. Downs met with Madison Crossing’s Activity Director, who explained the facility’s Armed Forces Day for veterans.

“It’s been a really good program for the veterans and our auxiliary,” Downs said.

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