James Ostrem, longtime resident and native of Lanesboro, Minn., died peacefully April 4, 2023, at Spring Valley Care Center, aged 88. Jim was a veteran of the Vietnam War and other conflicts, a career U.S. Air Force pilot who retired as Lieutenant Colonel, then returned to Lanesboro to farm and serve the community in many ways.
Born in 1934, Jim grew up farming with his Uncle Henry, attending a one-room country school and then graduating from Lanesboro High School. He attended the University of Minnesota before joining the Air Force in 1953, training in Texas and California. He married his high school sweetheart, Ruth Nelson, in 1956, and they drove off to start military life together in Tampa, Fla.
Jim’s service took him all over the world as a navigator, flight engineer, co-pilot and pilot. Some of the work was routine or boring, such as flying for hours and hours across an ocean. The exceptions were hair-raising: During an exercise in Morocco, his B-47 (carrying an armed nuclear weapon) broke in half during takeoff and burned for seven hours, requiring evacuation of the base. In Vietnam, his C-130 air-dropped parachuted crates of live ducks, chickens, goats, pigs and cows to remote outposts in the mountainous jungle, often under enemy fire. In the Congo, his cargo plane was part of the humanitarian airlift of 1,500 hostages and refugees during the Stanleyville Massacre. When the overloaded C-130 lifted off the runway, rebel fire pierced the fuel tank; Jim plugged the leaks with a broomstick and rags. The daring mission earned the 464th Troop Carrier Wing the 1964 Mackay Trophy, recognizing the Air Force’s “most meritorious flight of the year”.
Over the years, a son and three daughters arrived, and the family moved around to bases in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Virginia. Jim could be overseas for six months at a time while Ruth held down the fort and made a good home for the children. Nothing was easy during his wartime deployments, but they all made the best of it. When Jim was home they would have great adventures together: fishing, camping, clamming in the Chesapeake Bay, and driving the pop-up camper to Expo ‘67 in Montreal. No matter where they were stationed, each summer they drove the station wagon back to Lanesboro to visit.
Upon Jim’s retirement in 1974, the family moved permanently to a farm near Lanesboro, raising cattle, growing crops and getting involved in community life. Over the decades Jim drove and flew fellow veterans to the VA for care, worked in his church, and served on the historical museum board and as commander of the local American Legion. Along with Ruth and several friends, he co-founded the town’s annual “Buffalo Bill Days,” and over the years grilled a lot of fundraiser bratwursts.
He was gentle and humble (except for being a proud Norwegian!), a friendly man with a wry sense of humor. He loved to fish for crappies or play any kind of card game with friends and extended family. Favorite memories included tractoring a large wagon full of his eight beloved grandchildren out to the fields to jump on hay bales, then towing the youngsters on into town to get ice cream cones and parade noisily up and down the streets.
Jim is survived by his loving wife, Ruth (Nelson) Ostrem, and a brother, David Ostrem, both of Lanesboro; children Craig Ostrem (Linda) of Edina, Minn., Cindy Richards (David) of Springfield, Va., Candy Carlstrom (Greg) of Burnsville, Minn., and Karen Ross of Albuquerque, N. Mex.; grandchildren Weston, Ted, Will (Kayla), Lizzie, Toni, James, Joe and Charlie; and step-great-grandson, Noah.
He was preceded in death by his parents Adolph and Ida Ostrem, sister Dorothy Bammert, and brother Richard Ostrem.
A service honoring Jim’s life will be held on Saturday, April 22, 2023 at 11 a.m. at the Union Prairie Lutheran Church in Lanesboro. Burial will take place in Lanesboro Cemetery, with full military honors.
Riley Funeral Home and Cremation Service is assisting the Ostrem family with arrangements. Online condolences are welcome at rileyfuneralhomes.com
To send flowers to the family, please visit our floral store.