WOLFEBORO - James Richard "Mike" Nelson died peacefully at home on Dec. 22, 2012. He was 88 years old.Born in Lawton, Okla., in 1924, as the son of an Army aviator and a Missouri farm girl, he followed a career in aviation that included positions as Air Force pilot, government engineer and international diplomat. He graduated from West Point on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and retired from the military as an Air Force lieutenant colonel in 1967. He later worked for the Federal Aviation Administration, served as a U.N. adviser to Turkey, and represented the U.S. at the International Civil Aviation Organization.
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He started his military career as a U.S. Army Air Corps flight instructor before serving in Germany at the end of World War II, where he participated in the Berlin Airlift. Upon returning to the U.S., he married his West Point sweetheart, Mildred Martinetion, who joined him on subsequent Air Force assignments in Waco, Panama City, Ann Arbor, Cape Canaveral, Montgomery, Ala., and Washington, D.C.
During his military service, Colonel Nelson earned an M.S. in aeronautical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1953 and worked as a flight engineer in the early space program at Cape Canaveral. Although his specialty was flying large cargo aircraft, he was qualified as a fighter pilot and a helicopter pilot. He also graduated from the Air Force Command and Staff College in 1959 and Air War College in 1964 as a distinguished graduate, both in Montgomery, Ala. He later served in the Pentagon in the 1960s and continued to fly until he retired in 1967. At that time, he joined the FAA as a technical program manager to develop all-weather landing systems for commercial aircraft. From 1972 to 1975, Colonel Nelson worked in Ankara, Turkey, as a U.N. adviser to support Turkish aviation. Later, he served as a U.S. representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal as an SES-2 before retiring to Wolfeboro in 1982.
Despite his notable career, Mike always said his greatest happiness came from Mildred, his wife of 54 years. The daughter of Ukrainian immigrants living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Mildred Nelson made her own dresses to attend West Point dances, where she met her future husband. Together they raised and are survived by three sons, Douglas of Manassas, Va., Steven of Arlington, Va., and James of Wolfeboro. Mildred preceded him in death in 2001. Colonel Nelson is also survived by two grandchildren, Kassandra and Michael, both of Virginia.
services: Services for James Richard Nelson will be held at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., on Jan. 22 at 1000 hours (10 a.m.) in the Old Cadet Chapel.
Published in Union Leader on Jan. 20, 2013