James William Brown
James William Brown, “Billy” as his family called him, loved the outdoors. He loved camping, fishing, and was an eagle scout. He is described by his family as “good to the core”. He attended Georgia Military College and later graduated from the University of Georgia in 1953. While attending the University he held a leadership role in the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. He was also an active member of the Beta Club.
After graduating from the university, Billy went right into the Army. He was stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia and at Fort Jackson in Columbia in South Carolina. He also spent some time in the Alaska Snowbird Expedition. He had just been released from active duty in the Army when he was approached by the CIA. Just to be looked at by the CIA meant you had to at least appear to be an all American young man with impeccable character. The second phase of becoming a special agent for the CIA required all manner of vetting, testing, and probing for any character flaws or other weaknesses that might inhibit ones performance.
For those who knew Billy it was no surprise he was recruited by the CIA. Billy was deeply patriotic. He was destine to live a life of honor to his God, country, church, and family. Billy was a young man that took his Boy Scout oath and law seriously. Barbara Wolling, Billy’s sister, remembers her older brother as being very special. She said, “At the time Billy died I was only eleven years old. I was a “tag along” sister and worshiped him. He was always kind to me and many of my fondest memories were playing Old Maid when he came home during holidays and other visits”.
So in July of 1955, at the young age of twenty-two Billy drove to Washington D.C. in order to complete the application process to become a special agent for the CIA. Billy was excited at the prospects the CIA offered. It would be his first real job. However, at one point in the process of evaluation and what could be termed as “elimination” Billy became discouraged. Every aspect of his life was being scrutinized. Family members back in Savannah, GA were being questioned, as were neighbors and friends. As Barbara describes it, “Our family was under a microscope”. In need of encouragement, Billy called home and spoke with his mother Grace. As any good mother, Grace urged her son knowing he was not a quitter. In fact, she drove from Savannah to Washington DC to be at Billy’s side. As everyone expected, Billy completed the application process and was given his first top-secret assignment.
Barbara’s last recollection, as Billy’s eleven year old younger sister, was making Billy a cold cut sandwich before he drove off to California to report for his first assignment. She watched him as he pulled out of their driveway in Savannah never to see him again. Less than one month later the family heard the news of the terrible plane crash. It was a dark day for the Brown family. For several days the Browns were left wondering whether Billy had survived the crash. The officials offered no information other than his plane had crashed. His maternal grandfather, who had always taken him fishing and camping, felt that if anyone could have survived the crash it would be Billy – primarily due to his Boy Scout training. The Browns were a Boy Scout family. Even Billy’s mother Grace had served as his den mother.
But survival was not to be. Three days later the official word regarding the condition of the men aboard reached the little home in Georgia. Billy did not survive. Recalling the difficult time after Billy’s death Barbara said, “I think it was our dad and granddad who grieved more than anyone else. Our maternal uncle, who was CIA himself, flew to Las Vegas to identify Billy’s body. He marked the casket and boarded a train to accompany his body back to Savannah.”
For a time Grace was inconsolable. After all, she had played a role in convincing her son not to give up his efforts to be employed at the CIA. In such cases the “what if’s” could drive anyone into melancholia or severe despondency. But Grace found her way out of the darkness and learned to live with the emptiness the loss of her son left in her heart.
It would take nearly forty years before she would learn the role her son had in the security of the United States. Thanks to the efforts of the Silent Heroes of the Cold War efforts, the Browns learned the particulars surrounding the accident and secret project for which their beloved Billy had lost his life. As Barbara said, “I often felt Billy was a hero.” Now the remaining members of the Brown family knew.
On August 4, 2001 members of the Silent Heroes of the Cold War committee with members of the USAF 9068 families hiked to the crash site where a prayer, written by Billy’s nephew Sam, was offered and the names of each of the fourteen men who perished on November 17, 1955 was read. Within forty-eight hours after the reading on Mt. Charleston, NV, Grace – unable to make the trip to Nevada due to declining health – was reunited with her son Billy.
Today, Billy’s sister Barbara Wolling and nephew Sam Wolling are all that remains of the Brown family. Each November, around the time of the plane crash, Barbara and Sam will select a Sunday to provide the flowers for the sanctuary of her church – White Bluff Presbyterian – in memory of Billy. An aching still resides in Barbara’s heart as she contemplates the closeness that would have been between her son Sam and her brother, her hero, Billy.