James “Jim” Nelson, Lt. Col. (Ret.)

James “Jim” Nelson, 75, Fargo, ND, passed away on February 6, 2021, at Sanford Health Hospital. Jim was born to Adolph and Mayme (Froslie) Nelson on October 21, 1945, in Sharon, ND. He married Joanne Lyste on December 30, 1966, at Beaver Creek Lutheran Church near Sharon, ND.

Jim meant so much to his family and friends, his booming laugh usually a part of the conversations he had with them. He was a straight shooter, who enjoyed summers by the pool and cold beers with good friends. His battle with the squirrels invading his yard knew no bounds.

Jim received a mechanical engineering degree from NDSU before enlisting in the Air Force. He served in Del Rio AFB (TX), Ubon AFB (Thailand), Homestead AFB (FL), and Kadena AFB (Okinawa, Japan), before returning to his home state to join with the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Squadron, home of the famed Happy Hooligans. He spent almost as many years in an F-4 as he did on the ground, having been an accomplished and much-respected fighter pilot. He flew nearly 5,000 hours in the F-4, putting him in an elite group of six pilots having the most flying time ever in that fighter jet. This distinction remains to this day. Jim was noted for the successful William Tell competition as a primary flight lead. He was known by members of his squadron as a true Hooligan whose drive for greatness, refusal to accept anything but the best from those around him, and pride to be a Happy Hooligan, will permanently etch him in the memories of those who flew with him. After retiring from the Air Guard, he flew for Northwest/Delta Airlines for the remainder of his career.

His love for flight was second only to his love for family. His wife Joanne, their son Jeffrey, and daughter Jennifer will always miss him and love him. His legacy is not defined by him as a fighter pilot but by the man he was and the life he lived. Although he was a great pilot, he was a better man, and that is his legacy.

He is survived by his wife Joanne; son Jeffrey (Oksana) Nelson of Seattle, WA; daughter Jennifer (Rick) Jones of Anderson, SC; brother Leroy Nelson; sisters Annette Oxton, Carol Reopelle and Donna Smith; and grandchildren Tierney, Harvey, Gus, Isaac, Yana and Nikita.

He was preceded in death by his parents Adolph and Mayme Nelson, and two brothers, Norman and Ardean Nelson.

He will be interred at the Fargo National Cemetery. A memorial is planned for a later date.

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