the westminster news
Published by the students of Westminster School
By Hudson Stedman ’21
(James Slimmon is the fourth in from the left, top row. )
This Veterans Day, I was privileged to interview James Slimmon — an alumnus from the Class of 1945, a former trustee, a World War II veteran and parent to Jamie Slimmon Somes ’76. During the virtual spring term, one thing Head of School William V.N. Philip P’06, ’09 said in an address to the community truly resonated with me: Westminster has gone through global crises similar to this many times throughout history, and we will certainly persevere through the current one as well. So, given the global pandemic, divided nation and whatever else 2020 has decided to throw at us so far, I was curious to learn how Westminster had dealt with circumstances similar to these life-altering events in the past.
The year is 1945. James — or Jim — Slimmon is getting ready to graduate Westminster with a class of just 25 students. Even back then, Westminster was considered a ‘smaller’ school amongst the New England boarding school community: Slimmon said: “You lose a lot when you get too big. Even back then, I remember what a small school we were; we were much closer to the faculty.” He shared with me how Westminster in the 1940s was not very affluent (especially by today’s standards) and how students held minor jobs to help with upkeep of the school community: “We all were assigned different things, different jobs at Westminster and my job was to help out with the trash. Everybody had an assignment one way or another; everybody felt they had to do their part.” I began to sense a parallel between the Westminster community I know today, and his Westminster, but I was more curious to see how these feelings of community transformed to nationwide bonds after Slimmon would graduate from Westminster and leave Williams Hill to be drafted into the U.S. Army.
When asked about the draft, he said: “We heard all the news — the country was very much together whether you were on campus or off. My brother also went to Westminster. He was three years older than I am; we all felt we had to do our part. There was really no way of getting out of it.” Slimmon began his service training in Alabama where it was so hot that, “one by one the soldiers just fainted.” As European treaties were being drawn-up in the summer of 1945, most notably the Potsdam Agreement which would come in August, Slimmon was worried that he may be sent over to fight in Japan, though ultimately he was sent to Nuremberg after his infantry training was complete. After moving around for quite a bit, he was finally transferred to Heidelberg, Germany, where he was in charge of mail for the Third Army. “I was very lucky,” he said, “I didn’t have a hard time at all. [...] I had my own Jeep and my own driver. I just picked up the mail and brought it back and digested priority mail into the colonel’s office; but, overall, it was a very easy task compared to the other people out there.” Some of those ‘other people’ were his brother, Bob, a Class of 1942 graduate and fellow infantry member. During his time in service, “they [the Germans] shot down and killed his whole squad. He lay wounded in the battle for 24 hours, and flew back to Africa where he was hospitalized for nine months. But he came home, and I’ll never forget meeting him down in New York.” Bob Slimmon died in 2010.
This Veterans Day, we as a Westminster community honor fellow Martlets from years or decades past for their service to this country, in addition to the members of this nation who dedicate themselves to our military. Jim Slimmon’s stories of his experience with Westminster and during the war, have truly shown me incredible parallels of community and a nationwide spirit that still resonate with this school and the country today. In the midst of a pandemic alongside social unrest and other issues facing the United States, I am reminded from Jim Slimmon’s experiences how crucial it is to keep spirits high and friends and family close during these troubling times. When reflecting back on the war and his time at Westminster, he said that with life-altering events such as a war or pandemic “you believe more in the local Grit and Grace.” “You will have your ups and downs, but just realize they’re coming. That’s the best way to go about life,” he said. We thank you, Jim Slimmon, and your brother, as well as Westminster and nationwide veterans for their service to this country.