OKEECHOBEE — Born and raised here, J.C. Bass remembers when things were a lot different in downtown Okeechobee. He was born in 1930 near where the American Legion Hall is now, and back then, there was a sawmill there close to the railroad, he said. The railroad used to meander through the center of what is now downtown Okeechobee. There was a dairy a couple blocks over, near where the Hamrick Hospice House is now, and he worked there when he was in high school. The lake, before the dike was built, used to come all the way up to the city limits near Walmart, he explained.
Mr. Bass was raised in Bassinger and attended school there in the early years before they transferred those students to Okeechobee. When he was in about 10th grade, he was a substitute school bus driver and picked up children all the way out in Buckhead Ridge. “Things have changed a lot since then,” he said.
Mr. Bass was attending the University of Florida when the Korean War broke out, and back then most people were very patriotic. He was already in ROTC when he attended a meeting where it was disclosed our country was not doing well. When he went down to join up, the Marine Corps’ line was the shortest line, and that helped him make his decision. He got in that line, because he needed to get back to his job with the Film Classics League. He was earning $3 per hour, and the federal minimum wage in 1950 was only $.75 per hour. That was not his only reason for joining the Marines. He had great respect for that branch of service.
He went to basic training at Camp Lejeune and learned to be a rifleman. “Everybody in the Marine Corps is a rifleman,” he said. When he first went in, he was in “A” Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Division. There were only two divisions, and the second was on the east coast. They went down into South America on ships to train he said. “We landed all over down there. Part of it was a goodwill deal and part was keeping the peace.” But they always needed people to go to Korea, he said. They took drafts out of the 2nd Division to go to the 1st, he explained, and he was in the 15th draft. He went to Korea in the winter of 1951 and spent a tour there.
During this time he was awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for his actions while serving as squad leader. An excerpt from a letter from the Secretary of the Navy says,”When intense enemy fire inflicted numerous casualties on friendly forces assaulting two enemy-held hills, Sgt. Bass quickly picked up an automatic rifle from a severely wounded comrade and delivered deadly fire on the hostile positions, permitting remaining squad members to evacuate the casualties from the hill. Although subjected to continuous enemy mortar and sniper fire, he unhesitatingly carried the wounded rifleman to a defiladed position, and reorganizing his squad, set up a hasty defense to protect the casualties until reinforcements arrived.”
Mr. Bass states he received this award because he was serving with some outstanding Marines and some of his company are still missing in action. Some remains have been returned home recently, however, approximately 7,000 are still missing and close to 40,000 were reported killed in that “forgotten” war. Some of his friends are missing in action even to this day, Platoon Sgt. Nixon and Sgt. Mallory. Sgt. Mallory became a sergeant one day before Sgt. Bass, and they always joked that it made him the boss.
A few days after that action, he became ill and was transported to a hospital in Japan. After his release from the hospital, he volunteered to go to the west coast island defense element which was attached to the English Navy. He ran a search light for that group, he said. At that time, they were the northernmost troops on the west coast, and he was part of the security. They were about 900 yards from the mainland, and they used radios to blank out conversations of the enemy and generally to harass them. He used his searchlight as a signal so the English would come and pick them up when there was an emergency. There were four islands and they were trying to keep North Korea from getting control of them. The English had the west side, and the Americans had the east side. These islands are part of North Korea now.
After his tour in Korea, Mr. Bass returned to the states and spent a short time as a troop handler before returning to Camp Lejeune to finish out his three-year tour as a supply sergeant.
After he came home to Okeechobee, he went back to university but then came down with malaria. He returned to Okeechobee and his classmate, Dr. Rollie Raulerson, said, “I’ll cure you or kill you,” and he cured him.
Mr. Bass has always been interested in agriculture, and agribusiness has been his livelihood over the years. Locally, he served many years as an advisor on the 4-H youth advisory committee as his children were involved in many of the activities. Mr. Bass was president of the Okeechobee Cattlemen’s Association for nine years as well as county commissioner for district two for four years. He was one of two people representing Florida on the National Beef Research Board (Check Off Committee), at its inception, serving nine years. He served as vice-president of Florida Farm Bureau for eight years and chairman of its National Beef Committee. He also served as director of the Glades Electric Co-op for eight years.
Mr. Bass and his wife Jo Anne are the parents of four children, Marc, Marcia (deceased), Denise and Kimberly. They have ten grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, and look forward to celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary in January of 2020. They describe themselves as truly blessed. Mr. Bass stated, “If not for the grace of God, I would not have made it home from Korea.”