James E. Cross who also goes by “JC” was born in a boarding house on West Pine in St. Louis. His family lived in Festus for a short time but ultimately settled in Washington Park, IL, where he spent his childhood days. Cross graduated from East St. Louis High School, lettering in track and field and football, especially enjoying pole-vaulting and long-distance running.
After graduation, he was hired at Mercantile Bank in St. Louis, working in the vault but after only six months there, he received a letter from Uncle Sam, requesting he report to the MEPS station in St. Louis for testing to determine if he was fit to be drafted for military duty. After completing the tests, the Army Sergeant in charge made it clear to Cross that he was going to join the Army and that Cross would be his, there was nothing he could do about it. Cross didn’t care for that and in defiance, he turned to the Marine Corps recruiter sitting next to the Army Sergeant and told him he wanted to enlist. After signing the papers he turned to the Army Sergeant and told him, “I guess you don’t have me after all.”
Cross completed Boot Camp in San Diego and then went to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to complete MOS or Military Occupation Specialty training. His training was followed by being shipped to the First Marine Air Wing in Vietnam. Upon arrival, he watched mortars and rockets hitting the end of the runway. While departing the airplane, he could hear the pilot yelling at the stewardess to close the door behind so he could take off. The stewardess kept the door open and yelled at the pilot that she was not going to close it until all the soldiers that needed to get on were on. Soldiers continued to board and explosions got closer. As the last few were boarding, the pilot started moving the plane and within seconds he was in the air. The arrivals were directed to a building and from there, they were shipped to their duty stations. While life was hard in Vietnam, a company party on the beach in Chu Lai and a week of R&R in Bangkok, Thailand were some good times that offered a temporary escape from war.
Cross completed his tour and was shipped to Okinawa, Japan and then back to the United States for discharge from the Marine Corps. Upon his discharge, he returned to Mercantile Bank. He was offered a new position in their Data Control Department. During this time he met the love of his life, Neoma, and shortly afterwards, they were married. The couple had three children, two daughters and a son. It is clear that family means everything to this couple by the pride that is displayed with photos in their home.
Aside from a very successful banking career, Cross had also enlisted in the Missouri National Guard centered in St. Clair. He started out as an MP, then a Supply Sergeant and finally as the NBC NCO. During his enlistment, his unit was activated for several state emergencies and they went to Panama four times, Germany three times and Honduras one time. The unit was also activated during Desert Storm, being sent to Belgium and Germany.
While going to war was not new to him, this time was different. He took his son with him, as the younger James Cross had just joined the National Guard as well. This was very hard for Cross and also for his wife, who now had both a husband and son going to war. Neoma wrote a poem of that difficult time which is included with this article. Cross retired from the National Guard as a Staff Sergeant with a total of 36 years of service in the military.
In 2008, he was sent letters of appreciation from the Office of the Governor and the Major General of the Missouri National Guard for his service in Vietnam along with a medal from the State of Missouri to welcome his return home as the Vietnam veterans did not get the best welcome upon their return home at the time which it states in the letters received from the Missouri Vietnam Veteran’s Recognition Program.