- James King
- Hometown (Last School)
- Sharpe, KY (High)
- 1939-40, 1940-41, 1941-42
- September 30, 1919
James King was born James Libern King on September 30, 1919, in Little Cypress, Kentucky to Alzada Iowa Massey and Soloman King.
King was captain and forward on the 1938 state high school champion, Sharpe High School Green Devils. The little-known Western Kentucky quintet had played outdoors until 1937 when they managed to obtain a gymnasium of their own at their little crossroads school. Their only defeat of the year was at the hands of Heath high, a team they beat on two other occasions that season. Sharpe High School, located in Marshall County, Kentucky, and which only had an enrollment of 150 students, upset the heavily favored St. Xavier High School from Louisville, 26-23, in the semi-finals of the state tournament to reach the finals to play Maysville. They defeated Maysville 36-27 in front of 5,000 fans. King was selected to the All-State team. The Green Devils were given a hero’s welcome back home. Saying the community of Sharpe and counties of Marshall and Calloway were in a state of hysteria was putting it mildly. There were no words to describe the scene at Sharpe high school that Monday morning after the win as 1,500 persons gathered to celebrate the state basketball championship. They were hauled around Western Kentucky. After a celebration at the school gymnasium in which students of all Marshall and Calloway county schools participated, enthusiastic fans placed the state champions in automobiles and toured the section. More than a hundred of them were in the procession which drove, with sirens of police cars shrieking their arrival, through downtown Paducah, repeating a similar parade of Sunday night. Duward “Red” Culp, King’s teammate who went on to star at Murray State, said of King, “Jim King was the greatest floor-leader I ever saw. He would never admit defeat and wouldn’t let us, either. I can see him now, standing there under the goal, chewing his gum and the sweat pouring off him. What a player he was. And a real great guy, too.”
He enrolled at Kentucky in September of 1938 but almost didn’t make it. Said King: “We had a big crop of tobacco down home in Western Kentucky. I was afraid we weren’t going to get it housed in time for me to get here.”
As a freshman, King, whose jumping ability was the envy of every jumping bean in Mexico, was the focal point of the Kentucky Kittens attack and was captain of the freshman team. On February 7, 1939, he led the Wildcats with 13 points in a win over Eminence. He scored 17 points on February 21, 1939, against Campbellsville College.
As a sophomore, on December 9, 1939, King made his first appearance with the varsity against Berea. He relieved Marion Cluggish at center with 4 minutes of the first half to play and set the scoring pace with 7 field goals and 4 foul shots. King led Kentucky with a career-high 18 points. King got his first collegiate start on January 20, 1940 against Tennessee. He scored 4 points. Just after that, he was hospitalized for influenza. He missed several weeks of practice and missed three games in late January-early February. Kentucky went on to win the 1940 SEC Championship, their fifth. He scored 62 points on the season for a 3.0 points per game average.
King entered the starting lineup regularly as a junior. He scored 12 points against Ole Miss on February 27, 1941. He scored a season-high 15 points against Tulane on February 28, 1941. On March 1, 1941, King was named to the All-Southeastern Conference second team. Kentucky lost to Tennessee in the SEC Championship on that same day. He was named to the All-SEC Tournament team. He scored 149 points on the season giving him an average of 5.96 points per game. At the end of the season, in April of 1941, King dropped out of school. He said he was tired of school and wanted to get away. Coach Rupp said he had dissuaded King for some time from leaving school and expressed surprise at the athlete’s action. “We just can’t understand why Jim is quitting,” Rupp said. “He is a great boy and a great athlete, and we hate to lose him, but I guess whatever he thinks is best for himself is the best thing for him to do. He was always cooperative, a fine worker, and he tried his hardest to do anything he was told.”
King did return for his senior season. Although ousted from a starting position at center by Big Mel Brewer, King was an excellent “feeder” and passer and was a hard man to handle when he’s in the pivot spot. He kept the Cat attack clicking at a fast pace at times when Big Brew was on the bench. He was stricken with pneumonia in October of 1941 and missed some practice time. King saved the Wildcats in the semi-finals of the 1942 SEC Tournament semi-final against Auburn. The Plainsmen were off to a 10-0 lead and had an 18-11 advantage at the half. But King took Brewer’s place, stopped Auburn’s mighty “Shag” Hawkins and dumped in 11 points including the two which tied the score and the next four which sewed up the game for Kentucky. King was credited with a major share in Kentucky’s victory in the finals over Alabama when he subbed for Brewer and came through with some typically terrific play. Kentucky won their 6th SEC title. He scored 95 points on the season; he averaged just shy of 4 points per game.
In May of 1942, following 36 weeks of rigorous training, King graduated and received his silver wings as a fighter pilot and a commission as a lieutenant in the Army Air Corp at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. Ahead of him lay the task of blasting the way for America’s victory march through axis-held Europe and the Japanese-dominated orient. Following training, he was stationed at Casper Wyoming Air Base.
In September 0f 1943, King was able to visit his parents back in Sharpe, Kentucky.
On November 19, 1943, LT King married Helen Owsley Moore of Parksville, Kentucky in Topeka, Kansas.
Lieutenant King arrived at Shipdham Airfield, located 3 miles south of Dereham, Norfolk, England, on December 1, 1943, as a member of the 68th Bomber Squadron. This squadron was engaged in very long-range strategic bombardment missions over Occupied Europe and Nazi Germany. A few days before February 24th, 1944, Lieutenant King, co-pilot of a B-24 bomber called “Flak Alley,” and his crew had set out on a bombing raid but aborted the mission when the props ran away. On February 24th, 1944, Lieutenant King and his crew set out once again on a bombing mission of a German aircraft assembly factory. This would have been only King’s 2nd such mission. Just after bombing their target, King’s aircraft swung around to return to England when two engines on the same side had the props run away again. The pilots tried to counteract this strong torque with all their strength, but could not do so and fell out of formation. Enemy aircraft immediately concentrated their attacks on this plane and it began to struggle. Much of the damage to the aircraft was to the left side. At about 1 pm and 21,000 feet, five minutes flying time south of Gotha, Germany, the crew bailed out. Six parachutes were seen to come out of the aircraft before it exploded. The pilot, Lieutenant Bell, knew of eight men bailing out, but only four of them survived. Lieutenant Bell said that he had been told that all of his men had jumped or were blown out by the force of the explosion prior to his leaving the ship. Lieutenant King bailed out, but was wounded by a 20-mm shell and died a few minutes after hitting the ground. He had flown three previous missions. Lieutenant King was buried temporarily in the Pferdsdorf/Rhon Cemetery (grave #202). His plane, the famous “Flak Alley”, with 41 previous missions successfully completed, crashed in a small village south of Gotha, Germany.
Lieutenant James King was honored in a ceremony at the University of Kentucky on November 19, 1944. A bronze plaque perpetuating the names of five University of Kentucky athletes who lost their lives in World War II was presented to Bernie A. Shively, director of athletics at the university, by Grover H. Creech, Louisville, president of the Kentucky Alumni Association, in a between-halves ceremony at the Kentucky-Tennessee football game. The five men honored were: First Lieut. James William Goforth, who attended the university from 1933 to 1938; Capt. Edward Lynn Gholson, who was a student from 1937 to 1940; Second Lieut. James Libern King, who attended the university from 1938 to 1941; Second Lieut. William Letelle Stephenson, who received his bachelor of arts degree in education from the university in 1941, and Second Lieut. Melvin Charles Brewer, received his bachelor of science degree from the College of Commerce in 1943. Members of the A.S.T. unit, the R.O.T.C. unit, the university band, and the K-Dets, the girls’ drill team, opened the program with formations of the letters “T” and “K” at which time the band played the pep songs of the two schools. This was followed by the presentation of the plaque, after which “Taps” was played, and the band played “My Buddy.” The program was concluded with the musical presentation of “My Old Kentucky Home” and the National Anthem. SuKy Circle, the university student pep organization, made a contribution to the alumni association used in the purchase of the plaque, which was hung in Alumni Gymnasium together with enlarged tinted photographs of the athletes in their military uniforms.