James Lloyd Helms: 1946-2021

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James Lloyd Helms of Longview, Wash., passed away peacefully at his home surrounded by loved ones at 74 years of age on June 5, 2021.

James was born on October 23, 1946, in Hot Springs, Ark., to Dock F. and Mary D. (Moore) Helms. His family came to the Pacific Northwest in 1947. James grew up in Longview, Wash. He played football and graduated from R. A. Long High School with the class of 1965. James was on his way to college when he was drafted into the United States Army. Having completed Boot Camp at Ft. Lewis, Wash., and advanced individual training at Fort Sill, Okla., James shipped out to Vietnam arriving in-country January of 1968. 

James was assigned to the 6th Battalion, 32nd Artillery attached to the 11th Infantry Division, located in the central highlands of Vietnam. Involved in multiple combat assignments throughout his tour, it was in February 1969 while traveling through a small village that he and his company commander came under enemy fire. 

James sustained a gunshot wound to his back damaging his spinal cord, while tending to his commander’s wounds. James’ bravery and quick action saved his commander’s life while his own injuries nearly took his, and would ultimately leave him paralyzed from the waist down. 

James endured multiple lifesaving procedures and received rehabilitation services in military hospitals in Japan, California and in Washington state. Deemed 100 percent disabled, James was retired and honorably discharged in August of 1969 at the rank of Sergeant (E5), receiving continued medical care through both the Portland and Vancouver Veteran’s Hospital/Clinics.

For his time in service, James was awarded the following medals for meritorious achievements and heroism: The National Defense Service Medal, The Army Accommodation Medal, The Vietnam Service Medal (with one Bronze Service Star), The Republic of Vietnam Campaign Service Medal, The Meritorious Unit Citation, The Vietnam Gallantry Cross Medal, The Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Medal, two Purple Heart Medals, a Sharpshooter Badge (with Auto Rifle Bar) and a Marksman Badge (with Rifle Bar). James and his commanding officer would reconnect some 20 years later, remaining in contact until his friend’s passing.

James met and fell in love with Rita Castillo in Long Beach, Calif., in July of 1970 and they were married six weeks later in Las Vegas, Nev. Rita was instrumental in James’ care and recovery.

They ultimately made their home in Battle Ground, Wash., where they raised their daughter his pride and joy Carmelita “Carm,” whom they adopted in 1976 when she was almost 4 years old. In 1995, James and Rita returned to his hometown of Longview, Wash., to be closer to his aging parents. They built their new home next door to his parents where he spent the rest of his own remaining days on the same land that he had grown up on. Carm and her husband blessed James and Rita with four beautiful grandchildren who were literally the lights in James’ eyes from the very first breaths that each one of them took. He was also blessed to have been reconnected with his daughter Tiffany in 2002 and to spend the remainder of his life loving and getting to know her, her husband and two more beautiful grandchildren that he could not have been more proud or more appreciative of being able to call his own.

James loved and appreciated old cars and trucks and may have even been described by some as a “Car Guy.” He owned many vehicles over the years, including one 1929 Ford that Rita remembers from their early years together. He enjoyed car shows and rodruns and he loved to just go take a drive where sometimes he might end up having a meal at one of his favorite restaurants at the coast or where he might find himself in the driveway of a friend or a family member where his presence and his smiling face was always a welcomed surprise. In turn, James’ door was always open to anyone who might wander his way, as well. James was also fondly called, Son, Dad, Jim, Jimmy, Bro, Uncle Jim, Pa, and Grampa. 

James selflessly and abundantly, out of sincere love and appreciation gave his life in service to Our Father in Heaven and was always available with a helping hand for a friend or loved one in need. James, Rita and Carm participated in Mission work in Africa and in Guatemala in the 1980s. James and his family have been members of Landmark Church in Battle Ground, Wash., since 1977. The only other pleasure as significant in James’ life was spending time over food and fellowship with family and friends, and if you were a friend of James Helms’ then you were also welcomed with open arms as part of his family and always had a seat at his table.

James is survived by his wife, Rita (Castillo); two daughters, Carm Rybnikar of Vancouver, Wash., and Tiffany (Scott Rumel) of Tucson, Ariz.; a son-in-law, John Rybnikar of Longview, Wash.; six grandchildren, Marisa, Corey, Tanner and Justin Rybnikar, and Brendan and Lauren Rumel; four sisters-in- law and their families; and four brothers-in-law and their families, including numerous nieces, nephews, great-nieces and nephews, and great-great-nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by an unnamed baby sister; both of his parents and both of his brothers, Billy Joe Helms (Valerie Peterson) and Wayne Edward Helms; three brothers-in-law; two nephews; and a great-great-nephew.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, June 26, at 3 p.m. at Landmark Church, 1504 W. Main St., Battle Ground, Wash., which will also be streamed live on the church’s YouTube Channel for those who are unable to attend in person. 

Per James’ request his loved ones will gather for food and fellowship at his home immediately following the service. James will be laid to rest after receiving a full military honors ceremony on June 30, at 11:30 a.m. at Willamette National Cemetery, 11800 SE Mt. Scott Blvd., Portland, Ore.

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