Home LifestyleCareer This Hudson County Vet’s Story Highlights the Importance of Community

This Hudson County Vet’s Story Highlights the Importance of Community

by Jordan and Joelle Hernandez
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Veterans Day has been observed as an official holiday in the United States for over 80 years. This year, with more than 19 million veterans living in the United States—many of whom have recently arrived home from Afghanistan—the holiday has a new meaning. The American Legion in Hoboken exists to support these veterans as they transition out of service. We had the chance to connect with Navy Veteran and Hudson County native, James Rice, to learn more about his time in the Navy and life in Hoboken following his service in Desert Storm. Read on to learn about James’ story and how the American Legion Hoboken chapter helps veterans like him. 

James Rice veteran hoboken

Where it Began

james rice veteran hoboken

James Rice was born to parents Ellen and James Rice and grew up on Storms Avenue in Jersey City. He is the oldest of three boys and can recall a great childhood. “Growing up in Jersey City was a great time. You know, good and bad times, but you have to take the bad with the good sometimes,” shared James of his childhood. 

He explained that his grandmother owned a three-family home in Jersey City where his family lived on the first floor. James graduated from Marist High School in Bayonne where he was a star athlete before attending St. Peter’s College (now, University). 

“I really enjoyed sports and just playing anything I could. I did track, baseball, basketball, and football.” James took his football career to St. Peter’s University before a few life events, including finding out that he was to become a father and getting in trouble with the law, at the age of 19.  

Recruiting Station

In the late 1980s, the Journal Square area hosted regular recruiting events where residents could learn more about job opportunities in the area. “I was young and, well, let’s just say not as responsible as I am now,” shared James when asked about his time in college. 

“All I wanted to do was party.” When James made the decision to leave school, he knew he needed to find a way to support himself and his family. “I didn’t really walk into the [recruiting event] with a plan, but I knew I needed more discipline in my life to stay out of trouble.” 

Read More: How to Help Local Veterans in Hoboken + Jersey City

Multiple branches of the military were present at the event including the Army, Marines, Air Force, and Navy. “ After leaving the recruiting event, he planned n to go into the Air Force, but life had other plans.

In the Navy

Despite plans to join the Air Force, when James’s grandmother found out he was looking to get into the military, she knew someone who could help. “One of the families that lived in the house my grandmother owned was The Simmons Family. Mr. Simmons had a cousin who worked at the old Navy base in Bayonne as a recruiter.” James connected with the Navy recruiter who helped him work out and prepare for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, which is the Navy basic knowledge exam. 

James entered the Navy in August 1989 the day after his 22nd birthday. He went to basic training for about seven months in Great Lakes, IL, and can remember one thing vividly—the weather. “Being a northeast guy, I thought I knew snow. But, they get a lot of snow.” 

After basic training, James was sent on his first assignment in Jacksonville, FL as part of a land squadron VFA131 Wildcats. His squadron was connected to the Eisenhower Aircraft Carrier. James also spent about 18 months doing sea time vising countries like Italy, Spain and other parts of Europe as well as various parts of the continent of Africa. It was at sea where he learned he was going to war.

At War

It was during his time in Naples, Italy that James found out he would be going to serve in what would become known as Desert Storm. “While in Naples in 1990, George HW Bush was President at the time, and they put the speakers on throughout the ship to announce an issue going on with the US and Iraq,” said James. 

James shared more about the sentiments on the ship when he and his fellow Navy crewmates learned they would be going to war. “You looked around that ship and you could see the different feelings. Of course, war is something you think about, but it’s something that some people glorified and some people, you could see the worry on their face.” 

Back Home

At the age of 24, James came back home from serving in the Navy. While he was initially reluctant to come home, a family member promised a job would be waiting for him. 

“Unfortunately, that job fell through, so I ended up collecting unemployment for about one year after President Clinton extended military benefits,” shared James. After a loving nudge from his mom and grandmother, James started a job at FedEx, but unfortunately, like many veterans, James ultimately found himself homeless and uneducated on the benefits available to him as a former military member. 

“I was renting a basement apartment and the owner ultimately decided to give the place back to his daughters, so I started sleeping in my vehicle,” shared James. was ultimately connected to the American Legion in Hoboken, where he currently resides as a part of the supportive housing program. “I want to especially thank Mark and John for giving me the opportunity to live in these apartments. I am incredibly grateful.”

Celebrating Veterans Day

james rice veteran hoboken

Veterans Day can be observed in many ways across the country. Attending parades and ceremonies or displaying flags and messages of gratitude are just a few ways to show appreciation for those who have risked their lives for the safety of the United States. 

See More: In Memory of Vinny Wassman: The Story of Vinny and Cole

As a veteran, James wants the public to understand the sacrifices made by military members and their families. “You’re separated from your family for 6-8 months at a time. And often, you go a long time without hearing from them. It gets really hard and for some, it’s unbearable,” he shared. 

Be sure to visit the American Legion Post 107 online here to learn more about the work the organization is doing in Hoboken to support local veterans. Thank a veteran today as their service affords us all the freedoms and privileges we enjoy daily. 


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