In its mission to take history out of the textbooks by honoring a local veteran each month of the school year, the Hampton Bays School District is paying tribute to Vietnam veteran James Von Ende by flying an American flag in his honor throughout the month of December.
“The district is proud to honor Mr. Von Ende for his bravery and service to the United States,” said Superintendent of Schools Lars Clemensen in a press release.
Von Ende was honored at a ceremony held on Dec. 9 at Hampton Bays Elementary School. During the event, the high school select choir sang the national anthem and members of the Leo Club read Von Ende’s biography. High school student Nicole Salas also read her VFW Voice of Democracy Essay, “My Responsibility to America.”
The event culminated with the raising of the American flag and Mr. Clemensen and the Hampton Bays Board of Education presenting a high school diploma to Von Ende, who had enlisted in his senior year of high school prior to graduation.
Von Ende was born in Newark, New Jersey. His father owned a small house in Mastic and Von Ende’s family spent summers on Long Island. On Jan. 27, 1969, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was trained as a firefighter/damage control seaman at Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois. He was assigned to the Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center in Rhode Island, the home of the Navy’s Seabees.
Von Ende was assigned to an ammunition ship at Davisville which was moored away from other ships at the center because of the explosives the ship carried. His ship sailed to the Mediterranean and dropped anchor in Malta five times. He also sailed to Naval Station Rota in Spain, to France, Italy and the U.S. Naval Base on Crete in Greece.
Von Ende’s tours at sea lasted four weeks at a time. They would eat powdered eggs, spam and they drank powdered milk because fresh food is hard to keep for weeks at a time. Water was carefully saved; sailors took “Navy Showers,” which meant get wet, turn off the water, lather up and wash, and then rinse. The ship was everyone’s home so everyone did what was needed to keep their ship clean and supplied.
When not fighting fires, Von Ende helped load missiles on the ship. He remembers training near Puerto Rico using an island named Vieques for target practice. As Von Ende and his sea mates were loading missiles to be fired, he had a feeling something wasn’t right. He moved his head just in time—a missile had come loose and came straight off the rack. It hit his head on the side. He still has a scar over his right eye.
Von Ende married in the spring 1970 while on leave from the Mediterranean. After his wedding, he was sent to gunnery school and in late 1970, he was on his way to Vietnam. He was then notified he was being discharged because his wife was ill. He and his wife had two daughters, but their marriage ended in 1985.
After his discharge, Von Ende used the G.I. Bill and attended electronics technology school. He could not be awarded his associate’s degree because he did not graduate from high school, but his training did enable him to open his own business repairing televisions and audio sound systems. He also played guitar and gave guitar lessons. He played onstage as well, as part of opening acts for concerts, in theaters and off-Broadway.
In 1955, as a musician, he played with a band. One of his bandmates had a sister, Lauren. They met and Jim said, “21 years later, here we are.” They became a blended family with four girls and moved to Hampton Bays from Mattituck. He and Lauren now have a grandson in the Marine Corps; a granddaughter who is 16; an 8-year-old grandson in Massachusetts; and two more grandchildren in Hawaii.