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Morning Pointe of Spring Hill resident looks back on career in American-Japanese relations

photo of Jim Auer

Jim Auer, a resident at Morning Pointe of Spring Hill Assisted Living, Tennessee, built a prestigious career in the United States Navy and as an expert in U.S.-Japanese relations.

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, to two loving and caring parents, Jim had an older brother and younger sister. The family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when he was 7 years old. He grew up there and graduated from Maquette University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. However, he didn’t stay landlocked for long.

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Launching His Naval Career

Jim joined the Navy in June 1963, and soon he was off to the Pacific Ocean. His first two-year assignment was to a U.S. Navy minesweeper based in Sasebo, Japan, near Nagasaki. He served as an operations officer.

“The Japanese were very, very friendly to us [Americans],” Jim shared. “They were grateful for our treatment of them after the war. We helped the feed many Japanese when they were starving at the end of the war. The assignment gave me a great interest in Japan and understanding how important Japan was to help us during the Cold War.”

After that first assignment, Jim looked for opportunities to continue to serve in Japan.

“After World War II, Japan and the U.S. became close friends rather than enemies,” Jim explained. “The United States was worried about the Soviet Union, which had a tremendous number of nuclear weapons and a large number of ships and airplanes. One of my jobs was to convince the Japanese government to try to do more to help us defeat the Soviets, not so we [Americans] could do less but so that the combined forces could deter the Soviet Union from declaring war.”

Jim spent his first 10 years in the Navy at sea on four different ships, and the second 10 years of his Naval career primarily on land. During this 20 years of service, he was operations officer on two ships, executive officer on one ship, and commanding officer of two ships.

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Rescue Off of Vietnam

From Japan, he and his crew served in the Vietnam War in the South China Sea for three years.

When the United States pulled out of the Vietnam War, many pro-American South Vietnamese tried to escape the country. It was then that Jim took an action that remains one of the proudest moments of his career.

“As commanding officer of a U.S. ship, I was confronted with two small boats that were loaded with 77 Vietnamese people – from young women and children to a 97-year-old Japanese grandmother – who were escaping from North Vietnamese Communists,” Jim shared.

Although the U.S. ships were told to avoid such refugees if possible, when Jim ran across these vulnerable civilians with no food or water, he couldn’t just leave them to the elements and potential attacks by pirates.

“We embarked those people on the ship and took them to a safe port, and I’m still in touch with some of them,” Jim said. “Many of them are now proud success stories living the American dream.”

He added, “My crew was so pleased that they had the chance to save lives.”

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Jim and Judy's wedding photo
Jim and Judy’s wedding photo

Service on Land

Jim, who earned his PhD in diplomatic history, spent the second decade of his Naval/U.S. government service primarily on land, both in Japan and in the United States.

It was while Jim was working in Japan that he met his wife, Judy, at a Christmas party at a Navy base. She was a teacher for the children of U.S. military serviceman there. And on Dec. 18, 1976, they married in her native state of Tennessee.

“I think that my decision to marry her was the best decision I ever made,” Jim said. “Her decision to accept my request was the luckiest event in my life.”

During these years, Jim worked for the U.S. Secretary of Defense and helped set up meetings between the Secretary of Defense and the Japanese Defense Minister.

“I was acting as a witness to the Secretary of State and had the opportunity to listen in on high-level discussions,” Jim said.

He helped to bring about the homeporting of the U.S.S. Midway aircraft carrier in Yokosuka, Japan. American dignitaries were concerned that the Japanese wouldn’t like the idea, but in talking to the Japanese, Jim found that, on the contrary, they welcomed the presence of a U.S. aircraft carrier.

“It increased the credibility of the U.S.-Japanese Alliance,” Jim explained in a 2020 article “JAPANForward.”

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An International Family

Jim and Judy were in their late 30s when they married, and when they realized they weren’t able to have children of their own, they decided in their early 40s to adopt.

They adopted an infant Japanese boy. One year later, they adopted an infant girl from Korea.

“I thought for sure by the time I was 45, we wouldn’t have any more children,” Jim said. “Well, one day after I came back from Korea with our daughter, I listened in on one half of a telephone call my wife was having with a former sorority sister, saying, ‘Well, we already have a second one, Susie, but thank you for looking into this, and we will seriously consider this.’ When my wife hung up the phone, I said, ‘What are we seriously considering?’ She got very serious, and being in the Navy, I knew how to take orders. She said, ‘Jim, God gave us those two children, and if God wants us to have a third child, who are we to say no to God?’ I said, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ and saluted.”

Within 18 months, the Auers went from no children to three children in diapers. And they have thoroughly enjoyed being parents. Jim now has five grandchildren as well.

The family did get to take their children to Asia so their two oldest could see where they were born, and their daughter taught English in Tokyo for five years.

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Jim receives the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun
Jim receives the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun

Vanderbilt and Continued Foreign Relations Work

In 1988, Jim retired from the Navy as a commander. He spent the next 25 years working for his wife’s alma mater, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He was a professor of Asian studies and established the Center for U.S.-Japan Studies and Cooperation at the university.

Jim not only taught students but also served as an advisor to U.S. and Japanese scholars and government officials. Each year, he made four to five trips to Japan.

On the center’s 25th anniversary, Jim was congratulated by the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinao Abe. He was decorated by Japanese Emperor Akihito for his efforts in strengthening U.S./Japan ties. He received the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun.

Jim officially retired from Vanderbilt in 2014.

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photo of Jim and Judy Auer
Jim and Judy Auer

Coming to Morning Pointe

Life changed for the Auers when Jim was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and Judy developed dementia. The family made the hard decision to move Judy into The Lantern at Morning Pointe of Spring Hill, an Alzheimer’s Center of Excellence.

“The Lantern and some of the people there, including the therapists, did miraculous work with her,” Jim said. “She adapted and was happier with this life than I thought would be the case.”

As for himself, Jim moved into Morning Pointe of Spring Hill Assisted Living in July 2022. Living next door, he was able to visit his wife almost every day until her passing on Dec. 12, 2022.

“I was married to her for 46 years and four days,” Jim said.

Of Morning Pointe, Jim shared, “It’s a very comfortable place to stay. I can’t see how anyone could be bored here. We have excellent choices for meals every day, a comfortable room for sleeping in and entertaining, therapy as needed, and just an atmosphere of friendliness among the people who live and work here. The friendships and camaraderie are outstanding to me.”

Jim’s children and grandchildren stay active in his life, and his daughter assists in his care as well.

Recently, Morning Pointe of Spring Hill brought back special memories with an activity Jim had participated in many times in Japan: karaoke.

When he was asked what he is most proud of in his life, Jim answered, “I’m certainly very proud of the woman I married. I’m proud of my children and grandchildren. And I’m proud of my time of service in the Navy.”

Thank you, Jim, for the many lives you have touched in America and abroad. We are proud to have you as part of the Morning Pointe family!

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