Scrubbing in with the top Navy doctors
On a warm Monday morning, a parade of cars could be seen approaching downtown Third Street in Prineville, fronted by flashing lights from police, sheriff, and EMS vehicles.
It wasn't an emergency, however, but a parade for 83-year-old Jim Kucera — a Prineville resident and Navy veteran. It was his birthday, and according to daughter Dawn Mountz, a parade was all he asked for.
"The real thing behind it, was my siblings and I wanted to get internet in his house," she indicated of how the event got started.
She added that he did not want internet, and out of frustration they said, "Dad, we want to do something for you, what do you want?"
His answer was, "a parade." Mountz emphasized that his request was in the context that he had everything he needed, and he has a quick wit. The next afternoon after he made the comment, he asked her jokingly, "you got my parade planned yet?"
Mountz thought more about it, and decided, "this is Prineville, we just might be able to do this."
She began calling neighbors, friends, and even got participation from the Prineville Police Department, the Crook County Sheriff's Office and Crook County Fire and Rescue. Prineville Produce offered to have participants meet at their parking lot.
On the day of his birthday, Mountz took her dad to his favorite place to eat, the Tastee Treet. They set up a chair outside, and shortly afterwards the parade could be seen coming from Juniper Street—down towards them. Afterwards, Sheriff John Gautney and Undersheriff James Savage approached Kucera with a Crook County Sheriff Challenge Coin.
According to Mountz, the badge, officially called a Crook County Sheriff "Challenge Coin," started in the military, then law enforcement picked it up. If a person were challenged to prove they were in a certain unit in the military--or even in the military, they could prove it by showing their coin.
"He was moved by the whole thing," she commented of the parade participation and the coin presentation.
More to the veteran story
Kucera, a humble man, shared a fascinating history of his time in the United States Navy. Like many veterans, he was reluctant to be the focus of a story, and he felt there were many others more deserving of the spotlight.
Kucera joined the United States Navy in 1956, approximately nine months after graduating from high school. Many of his friends had joined, and he finally made the decision after trying to find work — which was scarce at the time, especially a young man just graduated and with no work experience.
"I graduated in May and in February the following year, 1956, I volunteered for the Navy," he stated. "I requested that I go to a hospital corps school after boot camp."
He was in boot camp in Bremerton, California, for three months. He had been in band and played the trombone in high school, and as a result he was asked to be in the Drum and Bugle Corps.
"That was a nice experience, and I kind of got out of some of the boot camp stuff."
He shortly went to Hospital Corps School in San Diego for six months. It involved training for hospital protocols — which he said was similar to training for a nurse's aide now. While in the school, he opted to go to Bremerton, California for his Navy hospital duty. While in the Hospital Corps School, he met an Oregon native, George Andrews, who later became his best friend. They still keep in touch, and Andrews lives in Tualatin, Oregon.
Kucera had the opportunity to apply for an operating room technician school, after being in Bremerton for approximately four months. He went to Oakland, California, for the technician school for six months.
"Because I graduated at the top of my little class there, I was given the option to go to down to San Diego to the hospital again," he said. "Immediately I was put in the heart and lung operating room (at the Navy hospital). That was my duty. There, I would scrub in with the doctors."
He added that this meant that he handled the doctor's instruments for them. The program was new on the West Coast in 1957 and 1958.
"I just happened at the duty at the time when the top doctors in San Diego were developing a heart and lung machine," Kucera clarified.
He said that he was honored to be part of that group that developed a heart and lung machine on the West Coast for the Navy. He added that there was a heart and lung machine previously on the East Coast, which was initially tested on animals.
"The high point of my Navy experience was scrubbing in on the first 13 open heart human surgeries."
He said the number one surgeon from UCLA came over to their hospital, and Kucera got to scrub in with him.
One year-and-a-half after he entered the Navy, he married his wife, Joanne. She was from Nebraska where he grew up. He was 21 years old, and he went back to Norfolk, Nebraska, because his father passed away.
"We decided it was love at first sight," he exclaimed. "That was in March, and she came to San Diego in June — and we were married at the hospital chapel."
He said this was a high point in his service time. "Probably the most important one, because we produced five wonderful kids over the years."
Kucera said that he didn't stay in the health care field when returning to civilian life. He has been a lineman, cable splicer, has operated a service station and worked for a farm store chain until he retired in 2002.
He moved to Prineville in 2004, and his wife Joanne passed away in 2017.
Service: United States Navy
Rank: Third class operating room technician
Term of Service: 1956-1960
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.