Neams of Long Beach has quite a story, but he’s so humble, so you’d almost never
know it. He was wounded at the Battle of Normandy during World War II, saw
action in the Korean War, met President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on several
occasions and once had dinner with Clint Eastwood.
Neams, or “Neamo” as his friends call him, has lived in Calvert County for 53 years. He came to dinner with a friend of his who worked with him at the Bureau of Engraving in Washington, DC, fell in love with Southern Maryland and has lived here ever since. He sits on the board of directors for the Long Beach Community Association and plays Santa Claus for the kids at Christmas.
“Around here at Long Beach, it’s a wonderful place to live,” Neams said.
A native of Washington, DC, Neams grew up during a time before stringent security measures were placed around the nation’s capital. As a kid, he used to play in underground tunnels from Limereth Place, which ran under the capitol, the Washington Monument and all over downtown.
“When I was a kid we used to play in the capitol, in the
rotunda,” he recalled. “You could actually go up in the dome over on one side
and say hello very faintly and I could hear you very clearly on the other side
of the dome. There was no security, nothing like that when I was growing up. You
could walk right in.”
“When I applied for a job at the Bureau of Engraving a man asked me, ‘which state do you vote in?’ and I said ‘which state? What are you talking about? I don’t have any vote, I’m from Washington, DC.’ In those days, if you lived in Washington, you had no vote.”
While employed at the Bureau of Engraving—where he first went to work in 1941 --- Neams found himself in the path of the man considered at that time to be the most powerful man in the nation—the President of the United States.
"President Roosevelt came through the Bureau of Engraving to board his train, which was stationed in the basement,” he recalled. “I saw and met him many times. The train was backed into the Bureau of Engraving near the central heating plant. He came through the basement door in his limousine and they boarded the train. It was very private, he came down through the basement, through the tunnel to board his train.
“It was quite interesting how we printed the invasion money in Europe, which was military currency,” he explained. “We also printed Hawaiian money. The actual bill was overprinted with the word “Hawaii.” In the event that the Japanese took over Hawaii, that money would have been cancelled.”
Neams enlisted in the United States Coast Guard when he was 17 years old, endured the “corkscrew needles” used by the military to inoculate soldiers, and more than once questioned his decision.
“I was a kid, 17 years old,” he said.”I shed a few tears. Asking myself questions like ‘what in the hell have I got myself into?’"
Neams served “all over: California, the Curtis Bay Boatyard, the North Atlantic Patrol.”
While in the North Atlantic his squadron was credited with sinking a German submarine off of the coast of Greenland. The North Atlantic was a hotbed of enemy activity in the early days of the war, with German submarines wrecking havoc on the shipping lanes. After receiving a commodation for taking part in that action, Neams found himself smack dab in the middle of the Invasion of Normandy.
“It was a mess,” he recalled. “We were supposed to go on June 5 and then the weather turned bad so we went on June 6. And I ended up being a disabled vet.
“I was a boatsmate on a landing barge,” Neams stated. “A lot of landing barges let the men out when the flap went down where the water was too deep and men drowned. I beached mine [landing barge]. I ran it up right on that beach and a shell hit that.”
Neams ended up in England and then Long Island after getting shrapnel in his leg from the blast.
“It was rough,” he said. “I was a little bitter during the time. I thought I was going to lose my leg.”
When asked if he lost friends, he responded, “Oh yeah, no question about that. But a lot of those guys I didn’t even know.
“When I got out of the Coast Guard, they asked if I wanted to join the Navy — the V-6 Program — I said, hell no,” he recalled. “They said, ‘you don’t want to?’ I said, no. Then when I got home I found I had signed on the wrong line. To make a long story short, the crewmen extended my four year enlistment to five years.”
Following the war, Neams worked for the treasury for more than 30 years.
“When I returned from overseas I went back to the Bureau of Engraving,” he recalled. “I did the electrical work, installing the money presses.” It was while he worked in Washington following the war that a friend of his in the Bureau of Engraving invited him to Calvert County for dinner. He fell in love with the area immediately. “I bought a house for $5,000 and later sold it for about $105,000,” he noted. “And right now, $100,000 for a house in Calvert is nothing.”
When Clint Eastwood came to Calvert County to film parts of ”In the Line of Fire,” Neams got to have dinner with the Hollywood legend.
These days, Neams spends time aboard his 43-foot yacht and says his 53 years at Long Beach have been rewarding.
“The people here are terrific,” he said. “You don’t have to go to Florida, you’ve got summer here. You don’t have to go north, we even get a little snow here once in a while.”
He said the true meaning of community came through loud and clear when Hurricane Isabel roared through, decimating houses and flooding the area.
“When Isabel came through, I walked downstairs,” he recalled. “I’m on ground level and I had water up to my knees, which was quite a mess. We hadn’t anything like that in 50 years. But everybody pitched in and helped. It was great to see the community come together like that.
“You have to give them credit,” he concluded. “It’s one hell of a place to live.”
Jim Neams as a boatsmate at California's
Curtis Bay Boatyard during WW II.
He ended up wounded at
Photos On This Page: Courtesy of August Selckmann, Calvert Independent
Long Beach Civic
Association of Calvert County, MD Inc.
P.O. Box 190