James J. Clements

The businessman was a decorated veteran who served in Europe during World War II with Maryland's 29th Division.

November 08, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

James Joseph Clements, a retired businessman and decorated World War II infantryman who fought in Europe with Maryland's famed 29th Division, died of pneumonia Nov. 1 at Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin. The Ocean City resident was 86.

Mr. Clements was born in Pikesville. After his mother died and his father abandoned the family, he was placed in an orphanage.

"He lived at St. Mary's Industrial School until he was 13, when he was sent to the Breeding family farm in Louisville, Carroll County, where he lived and worked," said a son, Garry Clements of Eldersburg.

"He came with us in the late 1930s, and I always considered him my brother. He was a huge influence on my life," said Gilbert C. Breeding, who still lives on a portion of the old family farm.

Mr. Clements was 17 when he left Westminster High School and enlisted in the Maryland National Guard in 1939.

He was assigned to the 110th Field Artillery Battalion, Battery A, which was called up after the outbreak of World War II.

"When he was in the Army, his nickname was the 'Red One' because of his red hair," said his wife of 62 years, the former Kathleen Rohlfing.

"I remember before he shipped out, he came for a visit, and I can see him now walking down the dirt roads dressed in his uniform," Mr. Breeding said.

"All through the war, we kept a picture of Jimmy on the radio, and we were anxious to receive his V-letters," he said.

Mr. Clements, who was trained as a sharpshooter and radio operator, landed on Omaha Beach with his unit several days after the Normandy D-Day landings June 6, 1944.

"They were an artillery unit pulling 105 [mm] howitzers and had to wait to land for a few days. They had to wait because the beach was still hot from the German shelling that was still coming in, and the landing was difficult because some of the 105s were lost after they sank into the sea," said Bill Allen, a longtime friend, who served at Normandy with the Army's 30th Infantry Division.

"He was a forward observer and always on the front lines. His job was to get a good idea if the artillery strike should be high or low. It was very perilous work," said Mr. Allen, a former Arbutus resident who retired to Lewes, Del.

"Jimmy got the Bronze Star for one of those missions and the Purple Heart after being wounded in the face with shrapnel," Mr. Allen said.

Mr. Clements' son said his father often spoke of and never forgot an enduring friendship with a Carroll County youth before the war. The youth later died in combat.

"His name was Murray Gore, and they enlisted together, went to Europe together and served in the same unit together," the son recalled.

"It was at night and Murray was on guard duty. He heard something and yelled 'Halt,' and then was killed with one burp from a German machine gun," he said.

Mr. Clements was discharged in 1945 with the rank of technician fourth grade.

After the war, Mr. Clements went to work as an appliance service technician for the old Hecht Co.

"I got to know Jimmy after the war, when we both worked as service technicians at Hecht's. That's when we discovered that we were both at Normandy at the same time even though we were in different units," Mr. Allen said.

In 1960, he established J.J. Clements Appliance Repair, which he operated until he retired in 1986 and moved to Ocean City. The business continues to be owned and operated by Garry Clements.

The former Woodlawn resident had coached baseball and had served as president of the Woodlawn Recreation Council.

He was an avid Orioles fan and enjoyed fishing and gardening.

He was an active member of the Larkspur Post 110 of the 29th Division Association and the American Legion.

"He loved attending reunions of his unit," Mrs. Clements said.

Mr. Clements was an active member of St. Peter's Lutheran Church, 10301 Coastal Highway in Ocean City, where a memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Nov. 15.

Also surviving are another son, James Clements of Ocean City; a sister, Margaret Deems of Ocala, Fla.; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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