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May 14, 1948 – July 7, 2023
As a young boy living on a working farm just outside his birth city of Rocklake, N.D., population 385 in 1950, and which sits only 19 miles by car from the Canadian border, James E. “Korea Jim” Kallinen never imagined where a career in the U.S. Army would take him.
During his lifetime he would visit some 50 countries scattered around the world; find and marry the love of his life in South Korea; and choose to remain there for much of his life after 20 years of active duty service when he retired in 1988 from the Army as an E-8 First Sergeant.
“Korea Jim,” as he will always be remembered at American Legion Post 201, Alpharetta, died on Friday, July 7 at his home following an extended illness. He had been a member of Post 201 and the American Legion for eight years and was a paid-up-for-life member.
He was also a 20-year member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars including serving as Commander of Post 8180 in Seoul, where he earned an All-American – All State Commander designation in 2015-2016.
Born on May 14, 1948, to Vernon and Lilly Elizabeth Kallinen, he had seven brothers, four of whom were also veterans. But Jim was proud of the fact that he was the only one who joined the Army, which he did in 1968.
“I got tired of sitting out in the field at night watching the Angus and Holstein cows to protect them from doing something stupid, and waiting for the small kernel grain (wheat, barley and oats) to grow,” he said. “The Army recruiter offered me something better,” he would say cracking a grin that was hiding stories of his time in service that he could never reveal.
His first stop was Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., for basic training, followed by advanced infantry training at Ft. Benning, Ga., (now Ft. Moore). His next stop was MACV (Military Advisory Assistance Command) in Saigon, Republic of Vietnam. When asked about that assignment, he was quick to say, “That’s classified.”
Toward the end of that tour he returned home for R&R. That visit cemented his decision the Army was where he needed to be. He returned to complete his Vietnam tour knowing that his next stop would be South Korea.
Stationed just outside Seoul, he met a young woman named Suk Chae. She added ‘Kallinen’ to her name in 1971 and remained with him until her death on Oct. 19, 2016.
In addition to being stationed in Yongsan Army Base, he said his other “favorite” assignments were Fort Lewis, Wash., and Vancouver Barracks, Wash., which was established in 1849 and was the first U. S. Army base located in the Pacific Northwest.
But wherever he was stationed, he always seemed to work his way back to assignments in South Korea which would provide him the opportunity to travel much of the world while assigned to the Armed Forces Courier Service.
As a courier he carried classified material while travelling on board a variety of Air Force and civilian aircraft. But he was always quick to tell his Air Force friends that his favorite ‘bird’ was the Lockheed-built C-141 Starlifter.
When Jim retired in 1988, he first went to work as a criminal investigator for the Department of Defense for 15 years before he and his wife decided their home would be in Seoul.
So with that decision made, the gruff-speaking (a trait he never lost), retired “first shirt” found a job in the travel and tourism industry at Dragon Hill Lodge on Yongsan Army Base. For the next 15 years he was the Lounge and Game Room manager, where he was responsible for bar operations and 125 slot machines – – – something he never hesitated to remind others at Post 201 whenever the subject of how to run a bar surfaced during his time as the senior vice commander on the Post’s leadership team.
After moving to the north Fulton area following the death of his wife, he would often share with friends that his fondest memories during his “civilian” career at Dragon Hill were travelling the world with her.
“She liked to travel,” he would often say when telling stories about his three favorite trips with her: seeing the Great Wall of China; the Pyramids of Giza; and dining with her one evening in a small café at the base of the Eiffel Tower.
His awards and decorations earned during his Army career include the Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Joint Service Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Good Conduct Medal awarded six times, the National Defense Service Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (Korea), the Republic of Vietnam Service Medal, and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
His service ribbons include Army Service, Overseas Service (three awards), Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm (unit citation) and four overseas services bars. Also he was recognized for service in seven battle campaigns.
He is survived by his son and daughter-in-law, Brian and Rosilyn Kallinen, and their two children, all of Johns Creek; and his brothers Howard of Eugene, Ore.; Gerald of Phoenix, Ariz.; Ronald of Shelton, Wash.; Charles of Vancouver, Wash.; and Lony of Kent, Wash. He was preceded in death by brothers John and Russell.
A Celebration of Life service for “Korea Jim” is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday, July 30 at American Legion Post 201 in Alpharetta.
Georgia Cremation in Duluth is assisting the family.