VILLAS – The war to end all wars ended Nov. 11, 1918. Two months later, on Jan. 17, 1919, James Neill, the oldest of 11 children, was born in Anglesea (now known as North Wildwood), to Mae and Clarence Neill.
The Greater Cape May Elks threw Neill a party Jan. 20, celebrating his 100th birthday and service in the Army during World War II.
Local politicians, friends, and family gathered to present resolutions, proclamations, gifts, and well-wishes to a man who was born when Woodrow Wilson was president.
Sen. Robert Andrzejczak and Assemblyman R. Bruce Land, (both D-1st), presented Neill with a proclamation, followed by Cape May County Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton and Freeholder E. Marie Hayes. Lower Township Mayor Erik Simonsen, Deputy Mayor Frank Sippel, and Council member Thomas Conrad also honored Neill.
Johnnie Walker, adjutant, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Department of New Jersey, presented Neill with a state commander’s coin from the DAV and a DAV state pin.
During the ceremony, Rev. Deb Moore, of Sunrise on Sunday, named Neill honorary ambassador of the 50 Flags of Liberty event being held June 30 in North Wildwood.
Neill spent much of his life on the water, from captaining the Nelle Bly, a ferry that ran between Angelsea and Stone Harbor, prior to the construction of the Ocean Drive Bridge, to shucking oysters, to owning and operating Jim’s Fish Market in 1948 with wife Inez, where he made his famous Jim’s Clam Chowder at 25 cents for two bowls.
Neill continued his love for the sea when he enlisted in the Army in 1943. Part of the Engineering Corps, he spent the war sailing, docking, loading, unloading, and maintenance of a hopper dredge, clearing ports for Navy ships in Guam, Leyte and the Philippine Islands.
Despite being on a vessel that wasn’t built for action, Neill said his boat saw its share of fighting.
“We got credit for shooting down four Japanese planes and were attacked by the first kamikaze planes of the war. The Navy gunboat that protected us was hit and we took seven of their sailors to shore so they could get to a hospital,” said Neill.
The closest call for Neill was when an enemy bomb landed next to his dredge and blanketed the ship with shrapnel.
“One of our boys was killed, but it could have been worse. There was shrapnel everywhere,” Neill explained.
Connie Jordan is Neill’s neighbor and looks out for her friend.
“He really is amazing, sharp as a tack. He was out shoveling snow last week. Sometimes he does things he probably shouldn’t, but it makes him happy. He’s a very sweet man,” she said.
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