James "Jim" Nelson

James “Jim” Nelson, Lt. Col (Ret.) James “Jim” Nelson, 75, Fargo, ND, passed away on February 6, 2021, at Sanford Health Hospital. Jim was born to Adolph and Mayme (Froslie) Nelson on October 21, 1945, in Sharon, ND. He married Joanne Lyste on December 30, 1966, at Beaver Creek Lutheran Church near Sharon, ND. Jim meant so much to his family and friends, his booming laugh usually a part of the conversations he had with them. He was a straight shooter, who enjoyed summers by the pool and cold beers with good friends. His battle with the squirrels invading his yard knew no bounds. Jim received a mechanical engineering degree from NDSU before enlisting in the Air Force. He served in Del Rio AFB (TX), Ubon AFB (Thailand), Homestead AFB (FL), and Kadena AFB (Okinawa, Japan), before returning to his home state to join with the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Squadron, home of the famed Happy Hooligans. He spent almost as many years in an F-4 as he did on the ground, having been an accomplished and much-respected fighter pilot. He flew nearly 5,000 hours in the F-4, putting him in an elite group of six pilots having the most flying time ever in that fighter jet. This distinction remains to this day. Jim was noted for the successful William Tell competition as a primary flight lead. He was known by members of his squadron as a true Hooligan whose drive for greatness, refusal to accept anything but the best from those around him, and pride to be a Happy Hooligan, will permanently etch him in the memories of those who flew with him. After retiring from the Air Guard, he flew for Northwest/Delta Airlines for the remainder of his career. His love for flight was second only to his love for family. His wife Joanne, their son Jeffrey, and daughter Jennifer will always miss him and love him. His legacy is not defined by him as a fighter pilot but by the man he was and the life he lived. Although he was a great pilot, he was a better man, and that is his legacy. He is survived by his wife Joanne; son Jeffrey (Oksana) Nelson of Seattle, WA; daughter Jennifer (Rick) Jones of Anderson, SC; grandchildren Tierney, Harvey, Gus, Isaac, Yana, and Nikita; brother Leroy (Pat) Nelson; sisters Annette (Bill) Oxton, Carol Reopelle and Donna Smith and sister-in-law Dona Nelson; brothers-in-law, Dan (Dawn) Lyste, Dean (Sherry) Lyste, sisters-in-law, Nancy (Wayne) Lunder and Jadene Lyste. He also survived by 28 nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents Adolph and Mayme Nelson, and two brothers, Norman and Ardean (Kathryn) Nelson, and brothers-in-law, Mauri and Gene. He will be interred at the Fargo National Cemetery. A memorial is planned for a later date.

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  1. Our sincere sympathies to your entire family in Jim’s passing. We were saddened by his leaving all of his family and friends so suddenly. Jim had a great smile and we will remember that always. Bask in the many beautiful memories you have of your lives together.

  2. Jenn shared on Facebook so I am glad I was able to know. I am so sorry to hear about this. My deep felt prayers are extended to everyone!

  3. I am so very sorry to hear the news about Jim. My sincere sympathy to you and your family Joanne. Sending hugs & prayers to all. RIP Jim!

    Beverly (Hanson) Devlin

  4. JoAnn, We were shocked and saddened by your losing Jim. He always had a smile with his interesting conversations. We know that you were his best friend. Always fun to kid you guys about Sharon. He is flying high looking over everyone, but specially you and the kids.

  5. Our condolences are with the Nelson Family, Jim was a very good friend and Hooligan counterpart. He always made us proud with his pilot skills and his contagious smile and laugh. He will truly be missed by all.

  6. Joanne and family: Please know that as your loving husband and dad;s soul has left our presents, that all of the Happy Hooligans who knew, flew and worked with him are also in mourning at Jim’s passing. His infectious smile, professionalism and overall attitude will be ever present in our memories. Please also know we are your extended family.

  7. Joanne & family: We are so sorry to hear about JD. Our sincere thoughts & sympathies to you. Upon hearing the sad news, our thoughts immediately sprang to fun & lasting memories of the past. His smile, his infectious laugh, his tenacity at being candid, his language with precise timing, his roots, his dedication to family, his sacrifice for state & country, his being & support of the Happy Hooligan culture, his professional piloting skills, his life. Obviously, in his own unique way, he has his legacy that will be remembered & will be preserved through memories & conversations through the ages. Jerry & Linda Engelman

  8. I first met Jim in 1974 at Homestead AFB where he was an F-4 instructor and I was a student. The whole group of instructors in that 307th TFS were recently returned from the war, and a finer cadre of guys to learn from was not possible. I was pleasantly surprised a few years later to join up with him at the Hooligans.
    He had an easy laugh and smile. It is the thing I remember the most. He is missed.
    Our heartfelt condolences to his family. You are in our thoughts.
    Dave and Renae Anderson

  9. Dear Joanne and all Family, I was so sad to hear of Jim’s sudden passing. He was held in high regard by Mickey, ever since the were teens in the field. One day a jet flew over and Jimmy said “I’m going to fly one of those one day” and he sure did! You two have been a couple everyone admires. So sorry for your loss.

  10. Joanne,
    Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family on the passing of JD. I had the fortune of flying with him in the F4 in the mid 1980’s. His skill and his ability to bring out my best is something I will never forget. I will always remember him!

  11. Joanne and Family, We have many great memories of Jim, starting in college, our weddings, many visits, and up to the present. Jim will be greatly missed. He was a good friend. Our deepest sympathies to you and your family. Myron and Clar Rene

  12. Joanne and Family;

    I am so very sorry to read about Jim’s passing. My sympathy is extended to you. What a great man he was and his legacy is stellar.

  13. Dear Joanne and family, we are so sad to hear of JD’s passing. Our deepest sympathies are with you and he will so fondly remembered.

  14. To Joanne and family. We were very sorry to learn about Jim. Our sympathies are with you.
    Trudy and Doug Evenstad

  15. So sad to hear of your loss. May the live of family and friends comfort you in the days ahead

  16. I flew with Jim at both Homestead and Kadena. He was part of the elite Wild Weasel group. I have never met a nicer person. Here is a nickel for you JD.

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