Rockwall County celebrates Marine veteran’s 99th birthday

ROCKWALL, TX (July 22, 2022) Over 60 members strong, CWO2 (Chief Warrant Officer 2) James W. Randolph Detachment 1465, Marine Corps League, gathered recently to celebrate one of its own – Rockwall resident Donald Van Handel. Don will turn 99 this Saturday, July 23.

Don’s daughter and son-in-law brought him to the Veterans Resource Outreach Center (VROC) in Rowlett, where Detachment 1465 meets the second Saturday of every month. Don was honored with a birthday cake, accolades from fellow Marines, and an emotional singing of The Marine’s Hymn.

A lifetime of achievements

As the story goes, Don and his best friend Bob Johnson were driving home one February day in 1942 when they made a deal. If they arrived home safely, they’d join the Coast Guard. If they got into an accident, they’d join the Marines. Bob drove off the road into a ditch – so they joined the Marines together.

Months later, as they were in line getting their uniforms at Marine Boot Camp, a Private barked orders at Bob. Don told Bob that the Marine was just a Private, so they didn’t have to do anything he told them to do. Within seconds Don was flanked by two Marines, his feet no longer on the ground. He was carried outside and was “encouraged” to follow orders.

Boot Camp continued without incident, but shortly before he and his buddies were to ship out, Don fell ill and had to stay behind. Once recovered, he was sent to Navy Pier in Chicago for Aircraft Mechanics School and was then stationed at Marine Corps Air Station in Mojave, CA.

During his off time, Don played the double bass in a Marine dance band. When taking a break between sets at a gig in Tehachapi, CA, Don struck up a conversation with a young man, Jerrell Clements, who admired Don’s playing. Don noticed a beautiful girl walk into the room and commented to Jerrell how pretty she was.

“She’s my sister,” Jerrell said.

Nine weeks later that beautiful young woman, LaVena Clements, only 16 at the time, became Mrs. Donald Van Handel. Their marriage lasted 72 years.

While in Mojave, Don qualified for pilot training after taking an aptitude test and was accepted into the Navy Pilot Training Program. He attended pilot training at Navy Dallas and did his carrier qualification in Corpus Cristi. In the meantime, he studied Aeronautics and physical sciences at Louisiana State College, Baylor University, the University of Georgia, and Cornell College.

In 1946 Don trained to fly the F4U Corsair and was then based at Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro until his discharge in 1948. The F4U Corsair was a single seat aircraft – and your first flight in it was solo. The aircraft was prone to unrecoverable spins. Don got into a spin in the Corsair and, after several attempts, managed to recover at the last minute. Spins were a prohibited maneuver, so Don never acknowledged he had been in one.

Don held the temporary rank of 2nd Lieutenant from May of 1946 to May of 1947 and was discharged as a Gunnery Sergeant. He flew in the Marine reserves from November of 1957 to November of 1962, where he became jet qualified in the T-33. Don went on to fly for United Airlines, Flying Tiger Airlines and eventually became a chief operation inspector with the CAA, the FAA, and eventually ICAO (the international FAA) where he and LaVena were stationed in Frankfurt, Germany; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Beirut, Lebanon; and finally Montreal, Canada.

Don holds a flight license in virtually every kind of flying machine from fixed wing single and multi-engine aircraft, both land and sea, to helicopters, balloons, and blimps.

Serving local veterans, youth, and community

With a heart for service, members of the CWO2 James W. Randolph Detachment, Marine Corps League are always on the lookout for ways to help others. They walk the Heroes Memorial Bridge (the bridge connecting Rockwall and Rowlett) on the 22nd of each month, bringing awareness to the 22-plus veterans and first responders who commit suicide every day. They partner with local community groups like the Third Watch Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club, Terry Fisher American Legion Post 117, and the Boys Scouts. They participate in Rockwall’s Annual Fourth of July Parade, help raise funds for Lone Star CASA, and support Toys for Tots. This past Memorial Weekend, six of their members walked from Royse City to the Rockwall County Courthouse as part of Carry the Load.

In addition, they speak about the Marine Corps, citizenship and patriotism at local elementary schools. They teach flag etiquette and demonstrate how to fold our nation’s flag. They are launching a Young Marines program called the Lake Ray Hubbard Young Marines Unit, for ages 8 through high school, helping to fill the gap for not having JROTC in local high schools.

History of CWO2 James Randolph Detachment 1465

Lake Ray Hubbard Detachment 1465 was originally granted its charter by the National Marine Corps League on January 10, 2019. Shortly thereafter, the Detachment conducted its Charter Commissioning Ceremony on January 26, 2019. The ceremony was attended by the original charter detachment members, leaders of Southern Division of the National Marine Corps League, several representatives of Department of Texas Marine Corps League, family, friends, and local community leaders. One of those original charter members in attendance that day was retired Rockwall High School principal, longtime Rockwall resident, and U.S. Marine James W. Randolph, Jr.

James W. Randolph, Jr., who goes by Jim, (shown above holding a photo of his father) had been an educator for 39 years before his retirement. He was a teacher, coach, assistant principal, and later principal of Rockwall High School from 1994 to 2004.

Jim has a Master of Education degree from Northwestern State University and has numerous education certifications. Over the past couple of years Jim has been instrumental in the Detachment’s success by holding positions of Detachment Chaplain and Chair of the Fundraising committee. In fact, Jim is second generation Marine with an incredible family story.

James W. Randolph, Sr.

Jim’s father, James Walter Randolph, was born on October 12, 1919 in Many, LA. James enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on December 14, 1937. James went to Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, CA followed by assignment to Naval Shipyard Mare Island San Francisco, where Private Randolph would serve in the Guard Detachment securing the ammunition dump. After a few months, he volunteered for overseas duty and to his surprise, was ordered overseas to Legation Duty (now known as Embassy Duty) in Shanghai, China to guard the International Settlement (and collect intelligence on Imperial Japanese Naval ships) as a proud member of “The China Marines.”

While in Shanghai, Private First Class Randolph, without authorization, (only Sergeants and above ranks were allowed to marry) married Ida Roskin, a Russian Jew whose family had fled to Shanghai to escape the Russian Bolshevik Revolution. In 1941 Japan invaded China, PFC Randolph was evacuated while his “unauthorized” wife and 9-month-old son Jim Jr. had to remain. Ida and baby Jim Jr. would soon become prisoners in a Japanese run POW camp till the end of the war. PFC Randolph would not know his family’s fate till after the war. PFC Randolph was discharged on December 13, 1941 because he was not allowed to reenlist due to getting married below the rank of Sergeant.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, James wrote the Commandant of the Marine Corps requesting permission to reenlist in the Corps stating “Sir, when the Marines go over the top, I want to be with them!” The Commandant granted him permission and James reenlisted in the Marine Corps on February 18, 1942 with 2nd Marine Division. On July 3, 1942 he shipped out to the Pacific Theater. Randolph fought in the following combat operations: Battle of Tulagi, Solomon Islands August 7 – October 30, 1942; Battle of Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands October 31, 1942 – January 30, 1943; Battle of Tarawa, Gilbert Islands November 20 – November 23 1943; Battle of Saipan, Marianas Islands June 15, 1944; and the Battle of Tinian, Marianas Islands June 16 – August 1, 1944.

It was on bloody Tarawa that then Gunnery Sergeant Randolph who had by now lost all his officers, was personally ordered by then Colonel Chesty Puller to organize all available Marines to fight. And fight they did, 72 bloody hours later, they had secured Tarawa. Tinian would be Randolph’s last battle of the war. After securing Tinian, the Sergeant Major told Randolph it was time to turn in his watch and go home, if he could find his way to the ship some distance offshore. Gunny Randolph packed all his belongings; a canteen, fork, mess kit and poncho and headed home.

After victory in WWII, Platoon Sergeant Randolph was reunited with his wife and son, Jim Jr. after 6 years of separation when they stepped off a ship in San Francisco. James was discharged in February 1946 only to return immediately to active duty once again. James was deployed in 1953 with the 2nd Marine Division for combat operations in Korea culminating his 22-year career as a Chief Warrant Officer 2. Randolph’s son Jim Jr. would follow in his father’s footprints and join the Corps and ultimately our Marine Corps League Detachment. GUNG HO!

Jim Randolph joined the Marines when he graduated high school in 1958 at the age of 17. His father Chief Warrant Officer 2 James W. Randolph was present and administered his Oath of Enlistment. Jim would go on to serve during the Cold War and participated in several deployments from Alaska to Africa and everywhere in between. His most notable operation was on October 1960 to January 1961 with Battalion Landing Team (Tralex 5-60) to Vieques, Puerto Rico during the Cuban Crisis when Castro state all Americans had to leave Cuba. Corporal James W. Randolph, Jr.’s final duty station was Marine Barracks Norfolk, Virginia. Corporal Jim Randolph received his Good Conduct Medal and was Honorably Discharged from the Marine Corps in 1962.

Semper Fidelis.

By Dawn Redig, Blue Ribbon News, in collaboration with and with significant contributions from: Ron Smith, Public Affairs Officer and Jim Randolph, CW02 James W. Randolph Detachment 1465; and Nico Van Thyn. Courtesy photos. 

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