Painter James

The April 14, 1944 headline in the Fillmore Herald reads “Thirty-Three Cadets Are Entertained Here During Easter.” Air cadets in training in Lancaster, far from home over the holiday spent a weekend at the homes of generous local citizens. Fillmore families adopted them for the weekend.  They were entertained with an open house, the key to the city, a house party and dance at Camulos. Church services and a round of informal activities including picnics, horseback riding, and swimming filled the rest of the weekend.

Mr. A. H. James, known as Painter James, was the guiding spirit behind these activities. He worked with the commandant of Mira Loma Airbase to bring the cadets to town. The cadets arrived at the depot (now part of the Fillmore Historical Museum) and were picked up by the host families. They were welcomed by families by the name of Peyton, Haase, Brown, Mc Kim, Smith, Rubel, and many others including of course James. Many of these names we still recognize.

Mr. James repeated this act of kindness toward our servicemen and women several times. The Easter 1944 celebration was the tenth such event that Painter James organized. At a similar Christmas visit for 55 air cadets and 5 WAVES, a letter from home was presented to each visitor as part of the festivities. Other groups came from Oxnard, Santa Ana, Taft, and Santa Barbara. Twelve hundred cadets were invited to Fillmore in this one year. James arranged for transportation, entertainment, and sleeping quarters for all of the visiting guests. He also organized wheelchair basketball games for wounded veterans from Birmingham Hospital in Van Nuys.

Mr. James was born in Greenfield, Iowa in in 1892, married Lillian Hilbert in 1917, and died in 1970. Coming to Fillmore from Colorado he ran a painting and decorating business and was known to the community as “Painter.”  He had three surviving sons who survived to adulthood. His son Robert, a staff sergeant in the Army Air Corp, was killed in the Philippines in 1942.

The Fillmore Historical Museum is especially grateful for another enormous project that Mr. James created during the war years.  He collected over 1200 photos of Fillmore World War II servicemen. Part of the collection was put into albums and was on display in town. Others were framed and displayed upstairs at Briggs Hardware store where the Veterans of Foreign Wars used to meet. Later they were housed in the local Memorial Building along with other mementos. They now hang in the upstairs hallway at the Museum. This collection has over 300 photos; a few of the photos are still unidentified. Frank Erskine added names to most of the photos. Some also display a star. A gold stars signify that the veteran was killed, silver indicates a prisoner of war, and red is for the wounded.  Currently nineteen (19) of the photographs are unidentified.  You can view their photographs here.  If anyone can help us identify these men, we would very much appreciate it.

Mr. James continued his efforts during the Korean War as well. The Museum would like to expand the collection with more who served in Korea and also photos of local men who served in Viet Nam. If you know of someone please contact us at the Museum at 805 524-0948 or email us at fillmore.museum@gmail.com.  We can scan the originals and return them to you.