MARQUETTE — You can’t miss Jim Feliciano when he’s headed to the Jacobetti Home for Veteran’s. He’ll be the one in a colorful Hawaiin shirt.
““If I can help, that is what I am here to do,” he said. “When (Jacobetti center veterans) see me come in with my Hawaiian shirt on, they know it’s bingo day. Sometimes its a smile from one of the veterans, or a hug from another – that’s how I get paid.”
Life has always been very active for the Marquette resident and Navy Veteran.
The 3rd Class Petty Officer’s job during the Vietnam conflict was refueling planes on th USS Ranger, an aircraft carrier.
“You’re kind of snaking in between planes that are tied down, chained, and pull a hundred foot hose with you going through,” Feliciano said. “I (worked) 16 hours on and four hours off, that’s all they gave us.”
Feliciano served on the seventh USS Ranger, it was the third for four Forrestal-class supercarriers built for the U.S. Navy. It was the first U.S. carrier built as an angled-deck ship.
He spent two and a half years at sea, serving three tours of duty starting in 1968. His energy and colorful personality must have shined through even back then.
At one point he had a wife back in the U.S. who was expecting a baby, and got some exciting news at a particularly harrowing time.
“It was during the Haiphong Raid. So you had time to go down, wash up, have something to eat and relax or go down and take a shower and hit the sack for a couple of hours. And that day I decided to take a shower and hit the sack. So I had just got to bed and it happened to be on a Sunday.” Feliciano said. “And they called me to the telephone that the chaplain wanted to see me.”
The Chaplain told Feliciano that he had received a telegram from home.
“He said, ‘You are the proud father of twin boys.’ And that’s all I needed to hear. Oh my goodness, I just went in orbit”
Feliciano said the smoke shop was not open on Sunday. So he found the proprietor, woke him up and asked him to unlock it.
“I got two boxes of cigars. Then I went through the ship passing out cigars, and my assistant division officer said to me: ‘Feliciano, you are going to die today. You’re going to go over the side.’
Feliciano said it was about a half an hour later when he heard an announcement.
“‘Petty Officer Feliciano might think this is for him, but it’s for the whole ship. We are on a 24-hour standown – so a holiday routine for 24 hours.’ – In other words, we couldn’t fly because of the weather,” Feliciano said.
He said he breathed a sigh of relief. recalling what the assistant division officer had told him. “I thought, ‘You’ll live another day.’”
That cigar shop was just one amenity on a ship that was home to over 5,000 men during wartime, although the sleeping arrangements might not have been very glamorous.
“So right down the middle of the aisle you had bunks on either side that at night they come down and the guys would sleep there,” Feliciano said.
There was also a coffee lounge in the front where sailors could watch television, movies were also shown there every night.
The ship also featured two gallies, which provided all the food for the sailors. There was also a record store, a camera shop, a dry cleaners, a barber shop and an ice cream shop.
“Right in the middle of the ship was this great big store. It had all of the essentials that you may need. You could go down there and get tooth brushes, tooth paste, whatever, all in the center there. It was a whole floating city is what it is,” he said.
Living in that ‘floating city’ came with work that was taxing and dangerous but also with unique problems that could only be found while living on a ship at sea.
Feliciano said the flight deck itself is four stories below the water with a level that tends to fluctuate with the tide.
He noted one instance where the ship’s water purifier broke down. The crew could not drink or shower with purified water.
“They put hoses in the shower room and you took salt water showers. It was not nice, especially when it was 115 degrees on deck. If the skipper saw a rain cloud or a storm cloud he’d say, ‘We’ve got showers on the forward flight deck, bring your towels and your soap.’ And we headed for the rain, and we’d go there and everybody would freshen up.”
Feliciano said being in the military was an experience in and of itself.
“It was all made up so if you follow orders, you’re alright, if you don’t follow orders you have a jail there and you have cops that put you in there. That’s what we’d do. We’d get up early in the morning and go to bed late at night. And when you’re not flying, you are checking the hoses and the nozzles and everything so when we get ready to operate everything is working fine. If we had any new equipment we would be testing that out so, that’s what the day’s like aboard ship.”
Getting on and off the ship could be interesting, he said.
“We would sit backwards on the plane and you can’t have your feet up there on take-off. That’s all they told us. And there was a mesh wall right here and you had supplies behind that, thank God, And then when they hit that catapult, you were sitting there just like this, Feliciano said as he thrust his arms forward. “And a life raft came over the top and landed right in my arms. And I was sitting there just like this. Now they tell you when you get on the plane to cross your hands in front of you, hold on tight and sit still. The didn’t do that back then.”
Once he got out of the service, Feliciano was one of the lucky men who had a job waiting for him when he came home.
“My father in law owned a small garage here in Marquette and I went to work for (him.)
He eventually started working for Wendells auto parts but had to retire in 2001
I had to retire in 2021, and this is where the story gets really.
In 2001, the accident happened, and I was sitting at the chapel at Jacobetti on Memorial Day and this little old lady was sitting alongside of me, she said, ’You’re with the Disabled American Veterans.’
“ I said, Yes ma’am.’ She said ‘You should come help us out on Thursday with bingo’… and that’s where it started. Thursday wound up into Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and going on outings on Friday.“
Then the person in charge of the DAV van asked Jim to take over the van for a week. He agreed and wound up running the program for 13 years. He did many of the runs himself if he didn’t have a volunteer driver.
Feliciano is well-known in the veteran community. He has put tens of thousands of hours into providing several different services.
I did a lot at Jacobetti, I have been going there for 21 years now as a volunteer. And now another buddy of mine asked me to take over his position because he was going to become a state job with the American Legion and he could not hold down two jobs. So I took over the position of VA VS. Veterans Administration Volunteer Services And, with that job, I recieved monies from the state and all the American Legion posts in the U.P.
During his tenure, Feliciano has helped to raise tens of thousands of dollars to support Jacobetti and its veterans. He is a member of multiple veteran organizations, plans events and serves tirelessly to help those around him. In 2013, Feliciano helped start a group of volunteers who are on-call to provide comfort and companionship to veterans during the final hours of their lives. The program is called ‘No Veteran Left Alone.’
Feliciano was the first person to receive the Marquette County Veterans Alliance Marquette County Veteran of the Year.
“Jim’s dedication to supporting veterans and their families over the past 15 years has been phenomenal,” Craig Salo – then the Marquette County Veterans Service Officer and Veterans Alliance member, said about Feliciano.
“He has been a mainstay at the Jacobetti Home for Veterans selflessly supporting bingo, the volunteer driver network, the No Veteran Left Alone Program, and countless other veteran’s activities.”
Feliciano has also garnered recognition from the state and federal governments for his work. He was presented the Presidential Service Award in 2014. He was also recognized by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2017 as the Senior Volunteer of the year.
Feliciano said he doesn’t volunteer for the accolades.
He said he simply wants to do what he can to serve the men and women who have served the nation in uniform.