James Ketola

remembering Jim Ketola, veteran of Vietnam, antiwar & labor activist
Oct. 20, 1948 - Mar. 23, 2011
US Army 1968-'71

Dear Friends of Jim,

If you knew Jim Ketola and would like to write something about him, please send it and I'll add it to this thread. Pieces can be anywhere from two lines to two pages.

Daniel Borgström
ex-Marine against the war
daniel41 [ ] trip.net

Jim Ketola, Viet Nam Veteran
by Steve Morse & Lee Thorn

Jim Ketola, 1948 - 2011, was an anti-war veteran and labor activist. He was killed by a motorist in Stockton, California on the rainy night of March 23rd.

Jim did two and a half tours in Viet Nam as a tunnel rat and sniper, among other duties. He finished his Army hitch at the end of 1971 in the Presidio hospital, recovering not from a combat injury but from an attack by an Army lifer, over Jim’s increasingly vocal anti-war activism. Jim became immersed in the San Francisco VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against the War) chapter right away, taking part in actions such as the takeover of the Air Force Recruiters’ office in San Francisco in response to the April 1972 bombing of North Viet Nam. Jim later was active in Veterans Speakers Alliance and Veterans for Peace.

Jim grew up poor in the iron range country of upstate Minnesota, around many other Finnish Americans. As a teen, he learned the woods and worked as a logger when he could get the work. Jim was a welder in the Bay Area for over 30 years, in both the Boilermakers' and Steamfitters' unions. At career’s end, he was still climbing on top of refineries doing the most dangerous and most skilled work. He’d say, "It is better if I do these things – I know what I'm doing." For years, Jim helped publish "Hard Hat", a rank and file construction workers’ journal.

Jim worked hard, was on constant alert, talked to anyone and everyone and at length, was a loyal friend to many, and was a mentor to several youngsters. There was a gleam in Jim’s eye as he fused information with irony in telling a story, recounting a piece of history or making a class-conscious observation.

Jim had a heart operation and an aneurysm in rapid succession. He felt both lucky to survive and that his mind had been affected. At the end, he was living in shelters and in a cardboard box with a woman friend in Stockton.

Jim both studied war and hated it. He had deep knowledge of the history, politics, culture and wars of Viet Nam. He did his second tour to keep his brother out of Viet Nam. Jim's father had been in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, a fact his father hadn't bothered to tell him. Jim was both an excellent soldier and a consistent activist for peace and justice for 40 years. He thus had a intense and complex relationship to war, and to the war that finally took him.

He is survived by his wife Gretchen Koch, from whom he had been separated for several years, and by their sons Erkke and Michael.

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STEVE MORSE & LEE THORN are veterans of Vietnam. Together with Jim Ketola and about a dozen other ex-GIs, they occupied an Air Force Recruiting office in San Francisco on April 17, 1972. Former Sgt. Van Dale Todd was also part of that action.

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from Mike Wong, memories of Jim Ketola:
April 15, 2011

I remember back in the early days of the Iraq war, walking back from a demo with Jim Ketola, and him telling me about how his chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War used to help deserters like myself hide out until they could make plans to get to Canada. And he talked about how he drove the lifers in 'Nam crazy, because he was an Airborne Ranger with a Combat Infantryman Badge, yet he was also a full blown anti-war hippie with the best of 'em.

I remember being on the train to the 2006 Veterans For Peace convention with Jim and a few other vets. By this time Jim was hard of hearing, so he talked loud and didn't always realize who around him could hear what he was saying. In the middle of this train car full of families including women and kids, Jim starts telling me this raunchy story of his adventures in a Vietnamese whorehouse, starting with how well he knew the house madam.

People around us are starting to look at us anxiously, but nobody dares to say anything. They can't seem to figure out this pair that looks like an average Asian man with this scruffy looking white working man who's actually shorter than the Asian man but telling war stories like somebody you don't want to mess with.

Finally, I say in a voice loud enough for him to hear, "Jim, you're talking loud, everybody around here can hear everything you're saying." The instant I speak, people in the train immediately look away. Jim glances around briefly, sees nothing, then says, "That's OK," and continues on with his story. People around us looked uncomfortable, but nobody ever said a word.

Jim was a great guy who liked everybody, valued all people, and treated everyone with love and respect, unless they gave him very good reason to do otherwise. He worked all his life to change the bullshit that is. The damn war isn't over, it's still killing people. And Jim was one of the best that, one way or another, it feels like it killed. We who still live, we carry on, and we honor his memory.

Michael Wong
Veterans for Peace, Chapter 69