04/30/07 — Love of airplanes led resident to create Seymour scrapbook

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Love of airplanes led resident to create Seymour scrapbook

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 30, 2007 1:49 PM

Jimmie Nelson does not remember the first time he saw an airplane -- probably sometime in the late 1940s, the 65-year-old said.

But he can tell you how he has come to love them and just how lucky he feels to live right down the road from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base -- a place he says has put them in the skies every day for the past 50 years.

He might show you his scrapbook if you ask -- binders packed with pictures of jets he has seen soar over Goldsboro and Wayne County and aged, yellow newsprint from the day Seymour was reactivated.

"Well, as far back as I can remember, I've just loved planes," Nelson said. "It started from there."

As a young boy, he made sure his passion for flight became something tangible.

"My brother was in the Navy, and one day he had brought me a magazine -- pictures inside of the jets and all," he said. "Man, I started cutting them out."

His scrapbook was in its early stages.

But as action picked up on the flight line at Seymour, his love for aviation grew -- and so did his collection.

"They had used it when I was in the sixth or seventh grade. I think it was paratroopers," Nelson said. "I remember the old C-19s flying. You could see them from the schoolyard. I enjoyed watching."

And then the news came down -- Seymour Johnson was to be reactivated.

It was Dec. 8, 1957.

Shortly thereafter, fighter aircraft of all kinds became commonplace in the skies.

With every new model Nelson saw, another picture graced his binder.

"The jets, they were slower back then and you could hear them coming," he said. "You'd always run out there to see, to get a look before they passed over. I kept my binoculars handy."

And when the local front page featured pictures of aircraft or stories about the wing or military, in a clip they, too, became a part of his collection.

Like the day an F11F-1 Tiger shot itself.

Nelson flips through one of his binders and reads the headline -- "Navy Jet Shoots Itself Down."

"It was just unbelievable," he said. "It was flying and fired its cannon. It was flying so fast, it ran into the bullets."

With age, Nelson got more organized -- and more persistent in watching the jets touch down on the flight line.

"After I got my car, I was able to find those roads that led right up to the runway," he said. "There were four of them."

He went alone most mornings, before work or school.

But later in the day, he shared his passion with friends and coworkers.

"It was so much fun to take other people out there," Nelson said. "To see their enthusiasm, it was just exciting."

He was happy to include others in an activity that brought him joy.

Even now, his granddaughter, Sara, helps put new clippings into his scrapbook.

Meanwhile, his own passion gave him sights and memories he said will last a lifetime.

And all the while, he was a witness to changes at Seymour Johnson. He watched the history of the wing unfold.

"In just a 50-year period, you take an F-86 that goes 700 miles an hour and turn it into something that breaks the speed record," he said. "It's amazing what they've done in such a short time. Planes were here and all of a sudden they were gone. They just advanced so quickly."

And he's felt like a fortunate man every step of the way to grow up in Goldsboro as Seymour re-emerged.

"You find a lot of people out there who really have a thing for planes," Nelson said. "I'm just lucky I have them so close by. It's like for people who love baseball, having a stadium right down the road."