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Awakening To A Call: Former Soldier/Statesman Helps Those Who Need It | By Jason Brady

In 1999, Jim Stitt was walking in the hallway of his Devonwood home, speaking on the telephone to a friend, when without warning the world around him darkened as he crashed to the hardwood floors.

He awoke at Womack Army Hospital. Stitt calls it his “awakening,” his second birth since his first in 1933. He credits his neighbors, the police and the paramedics who broke into his house for saving his life. Unknown to Stitt at the time, he was suffering from diabetes. A blood sugar level 12 times the norm had put him in a coma. His friend on the telephone sprung into action when Stitt rambled incoherently moments before passing out. His friend called neighbors and neighbors called 9-1-1.

Because of life-saving actions by others, Stitt, the former Special Forces warrior and Vietnam combat veteran, realized he was mortal after all and since has dedicated his life to others. Now Stitt extends to those in need his helping hand to ensure they maintain the quality of life they deserve. Perhaps it is Stitt’s Special Forces training in nation building and his subsequent diplomatic service that allows him to put his extraordinary people skills to work in his own community.

Organizations such as the Big Brothers-Big Sisters, Red Cross, United Way and RSVP, the retired senior volunteer program, all haven benefited from his awakening. “I think volunteering with RSVP again woke me up to what’s happening here in Fayetteville,” Stitt said. “As we drive to and from work here in Fayetteville, we don’t realize what is happening on our side streets.”

What Stitt found on those side streets are people who may not be destitute but are stuck in their houses. His participation with the Meals on Wheels program allows Stitt to visit and share news with people who otherwise would not have daily contact with the outside world.

“A lot of time, we’re the only person they see that day. All they need is a couple of minutes of talking to someone.” He recalls delivering meals to a homebound veteran who always wanted to talk about the military issues. His vast experiences in the military and diplomatic worlds allow Stitt to converse with anyone on just about anything.

Stitt is a native of Charlotte, a product of a working family that placed a premium on education. During high school, Stitt worked with his father in a sawmill and delivered furniture at his second job. After graduation, he briefly attended Johnson C. Smith University before joining the military in 1953. While in the military, he earned his B.A. Degree from the University of Nebraska and his M.A. Degree in political science from the University of Kansas. Early in his career, Stitt realized that certain jobs in the military exposed him to greater opportunities and those opportunities pointed him toward airborne training and Special Forces.

During his 33-year stint, he served with the 101st and 11th Airborne Divisions and with the 1st, 5th, 6th and 7th Special Forces Groups. He also served as deputy commander of Fort Bragg’s Special Forces school. His last assignment was as a military foreign area officer (FAO) serving as the first defense attaché in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana. The Army awarded him the Legion of Merit for his service in Africa.

After retiring from the military, Stitt briefly became a consultant for Exxon in Africa. However, his nation again called him to serve and Stitt joined the U.S. State Department as a foreign service officer, a post he held for another 12 years. After retiring from his second career in Washington, D.C., his military roots beckoned him and he returned to his Fayetteville home.

Stitt says his experiences are hard to quantify, but they added much to who he is. His travels – especially to third-world countries – have given him a greater appreciation for his own country. “It’s the best system going. I’ve worked in Africa, Europe and Asia, and I haven’t found a system as complete as you will find in the U.S. In many other countries, the poor are simply forgotten.”

Stitt points to the vast number of non-profit organizations that fill the void in social programs. However, he realizes the problem often lies in identifying organizations and pairing their respective services with those who need them.

Not surprisingly, Stitt has been honored for his volunteer work. Fellow RSVP members nominated him for a national recognition. On a rain-soaked Tuesday afternoon in June 2005, President Bush awarded him the President’s Volunteer Service Award. Although he was the honoree, the President’s attitude toward him during the brief ceremony on the tarmac of Pope Air Force Base deeply touched him. Stitt had set his umbrella aside and out of reach as the president awarded him his certificate. Noticing this, President Bush handed Stitt his umbrella.

Stitt remembers the President’s words,” Here, take this, you’ll need it.” It made a lasting impression on Stitt. “The most powerful leader of the world gives his umbrella to a senior citizen while he (Bush) gets wet walking to his car,” Stitt recalled. “I still have that umbrella,” he added.

Ever the Renaissance man, Stitt remains the warrior and artisan. He battles his diabetes by remaining active: bowling, golfing, and mowing his hillside lawn with a push mower. His wife passed in 1989 and Stitt now shares his home with Sam and Dave, two feisty black Cocker Spaniels named after Sam Moore and Dave Prater whose 1968 R&B hit “I’m A Soul Man” catapulted them into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame.

His artistic outlet is painting, thus the many oil paintings adorning his home and often displayed at Fayetteville’s Fourth Friday. Several of his scenes hang in the home of General and Mrs. Vines, 18th Airborne Corp commander. Currently, Stitt is preparing one of his paintings to compete in a Raleigh art show.

At 73 years old, Stitt says there are so many things to do in Fayetteville if you have the desire. “The idea is you got to get out and do it.”

Jason Brady is a former military reporter for the Fayetteville Observer and the former Public Affairs Officer for the City of Fayetteville.