ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Dr. Jimmy Ware ’74 is a humanitarian with the heart of a servant leader

By Noell Barnidge
Dr. James “Jimmy” Ware graduated from Benedictine Military School in 1974, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Emory University in 1978, and earned a doctorate in dental medicine from the Medical School of Georgia in 1982. While in dental school, he joined the Navy reserve for four years. In 2012, Captain Ware retired from the U.S. Navy Dental Corps after 30 years of service.

On Oct. 23, 1983, Ware was a new lieutenant assigned to the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, which deployed to Beirut as part of an international peacekeeping force, when a truck loaded with 1,200 pounds of explosives crashed into the Marine barracks. A suicide bomber detonated his deadly charge, blowing up the four-story building and killing 241 Americans, including 220 Marines, 18 Navy sailors, and three Army soldiers. Only 60 Americans survived. Lt. Ware, who was quartered in a building approximately 500 feet away from the center of the blast, rushed to the scene. Ware, who had completed C4 training, a thorough combat casualty care course, and about a dozen Navy corpsmen set up an emergency triage station and rendered aid to the wounded. He worked nonstop for 20 hours after the attack, which was traced to the Hezbollah terrorist organization.

The experience prepared Ware to lead when, years later, an even larger tragedy occurred.

On Jan. 12, 2010, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. An estimated 200,000 people died. Hundreds of thousands more were severely injured. The day after the earthquake, the medical treatment ship USNS Comfort, under the command of Capt. Ware, received orders to deploy to Haiti. The ship departed Baltimore on Jan. 16 and arrived in Haiti four days later. American helicopters brought the injured to the Comfort. The hospital ship utilized its 1,000 patient beds and 12 operating rooms. There were 1,288 crewmembers aboard the Comfort. Medevac helicopters visited the ship 2,124 times. During the following five weeks, 1,927 patients were treated, and 843 surgeries were performed. It was among the largest humanitarian missions ever attempted. When the Comfort arrived back at port March 19 in Baltimore, Capt. Ware praised the dedication and teamwork of the entire Comfort team. He said it was an honor to help the people of Haiti.

How did you decide to pursue your career in the Navy?

“I joined in dental school. My dad (John) was a dentist. He passed away when I was in dental school. My mom sold the practice for her benefit because she needed it, and I said to my wife, ‘Francine, what do you think? Should we join the Army? The Navy? I want to be near the water because I like the water and boats, so I think I want to join the Navy.’ After I served with the Marine Corps my first assignment it happened to me – I wanted to be a part of that team. I respected that team. I understood the team. And I saw how hard they worked. Sometimes it’s about how hard people work to do their job. And it’s not a bad thing. When you see people around you give 100 percent for what they do, and they still enjoy what they do … my wife and I both saw that. I was on active duty for 30 years, but I also had four years in reserve when I was in dental school. When I retired in 2012, I came back to Savannah, and I’ve been doing children’s dentistry.”

What are you working on right now?

“Right after I got out of the Navy, I taught for a little bit at Savannah Tech. I taught dental hygienists. I was 55 years old, and I didn’t want to start my own business. I started working with children just to learn how to manage their behavior. I became pretty good at it. Even though I’m a military guy, I’ve got kind of a quirky, silly sense about me. And it works. I never tell the exact same story twice, and it doesn’t need to make any sense because when it’s all said and done, I get to the same place in the road. For me, I always have a parent with me when I take their child. I want them to see what’s going on. I want them to see how much I interact with the child to make the experience as easy as possible. I’m giving back to my community. Some of the children, many of them are underprivileged. It’s not about money. It’s about providing a service. And I’ll do it as long as my hands and my eyes are capable. I just don’t know if I’ll continue to do it 40 hours per week.”

What does the BC brotherhood mean to you?

“Well, my daddy went to BC. I kept up with a lot of his classmates. He graduated in ’39. And there were names like M.A. Spellman, John Lyons, Dr. John McCarthy. I knew as a young guy – all my uncles went to Benedictine; my Uncle Jerry, my Uncle Joe, my Uncle Tommy, my Uncle Michael, my Uncle Bubba Clifton, they all went to Benedictine in the 40s, and my daddy was the most senior person in the family of that generation – about BC, of course, growing up and going to football games in the early ’60s, with Vic Mell being a coach and me being a kid running around in the stadium at Memorial. My brother ended up going to Benedictine. He was nine years older than me. I had a strong understanding that Benedictine was just the place that you went as a generational Savannah Irish-Catholic. Now, I have all of my friends, I’m in my 60s, and I basically still have them all. And I was gone almost 38 years, my wife and I, of course, I married a girl from St. Vincent’s (Academy). And my son had the opportunity to come to BC, Jimmy, who graduated in 2018. BC has just been a touchstone for all the things you want in friendship and loyalty and reaching out to old friends and making new ones. I think of BC as family. Anytime you meet somebody, and, of course, I’ve lived in a lot of different places, and you meet people from Savannah, you’d say, ‘Where did you go to high school?’ They understood who you were because you went to Benedictine. If you ended up finding out that someone went to Benedictine and graduated at some point whom you might not have known, you always would search them out and find out who they were.”

Which teacher, coach, or monk was influential when you think back to your time at BC?

“Fr. Bertrand (Dunegan), he did me a great service. As a teacher, he was very demanding. He taught Earth science in the ninth grade and biology the second year. Very demanding. By the time I got to the second year, I just got my driver’s license. I had a girlfriend. I was 16. I was a little bit wild. I didn’t as well in biology as I should have. I graduated from Emory University with an A-plus in biology so he gave me the instincts to be there, but I probably failed myself and failed him a little bit. I think Fr. Bertrand, overall, was very big in lighting my interest in biology. Fr. Bede (Hasso) was my algebra teacher. He challenged the students, and he challenged me, but I had the ability to do the mathematics which he presented, and I never wanted to let him down. He was a tough cookie. He was a boxer. He died not too long ago. I think those two the first year. Fr. Albert (Bickerstaff) was my American history teacher in 10th grade. Fr. Wilfred (Dumm) taught me physics and algebra II. I think he was very influential, too, because my academics were very strong in those areas. He wasn’t demanding like the other ones. He was more of a gentle person. But I was able to do well and excel in his area.”

What lessons did you learn at BC that have guided you in your life and career?

“I had the opportunity to play football as a junior Cadet, and (I was in) JROTC. I think I understood a little bit about the military as I went through Benedictine. JROTC is not exactly the military, but you understand about teamwork. You understand about discipline. You understand about applying yourself. You can’t be a loner and be successful in an organization that requires teamwork, that requires loyalty. The older that you get, and the more you look back on the days you had, some days were tough at Benedictine. When you’re a student, it’s not all perfect. On the other hand, you realize that some of those most difficult, trying times, they made you produce mettle in you. They strengthened you. You look back and you say, ‘I needed to do this because of that.’ I think back to my time as a football player, because I was a little ninth-grader, and I played against some pretty big boys. But I never quit. By the time I finished football in ninth grade, I might not have been quite big enough as a 10th-grader, but I was successful doing that. And I’ve always thought back on that because I was very small. Educationally, I got a tremendous education here. When I went away to Emory University, I wasn’t lagging behind the students. I was on par or above them in many areas like biology with Fr. Bertrand, mathematics with Fr. Brinstan (Takach) and Fr. Bede, physics with Fr. Wilfred. Sister Johanna (Maguire) taught me chemistry. And I’ll tell you this, I can remember every classroom and every teacher I had here. Most people cannot do that. If I walked through today, and walked through every classroom, I could tell you who the teacher was and at least if (the class) was in the morning or afternoon. My friends and I who went to school here back in the early 70s, we talk about that all the time. Those stories are still very vivid. A lot of people in this world, they lose connections with their past, and they think it’s normal. But they’ve lost something. As a Savannah person who has the fellowship of Benedictine, it’s an honor to have that. I was gone for 38 years but I kept in some form of contact. You know, you raise kids, and you do your thing and whatever, but I always knew I had that connection. It was never even a second thought that I wasn’t (forever part of BC). There are two things I think about as a Catholic: 1. I can go to any church in the world and that’s my home. I belong there. And the second is to come here. Anything that happens at Benedictine, whether I knew the priest or don’t know the priest, or knew who’s there, I can go (to BC) and I can feel like I’m where I need to be.”

How important is it for alumni to continue supporting BC so that future generations of young men can have the BC experience?

“We’ve got to keep it going. I’ve analyzed the classes that I know, and that would be from ’65 – because my brother was Class of ’65; I was ’74 – back all the way to ’79 … I can go for about 14 years of having connections … I was a lifeguard at Knights of Columbus pool on Waters Ave., so I knew all the little boys who ended up coming here. But I was gone. I didn’t see them. I knew their parents, of course. But I look at from ’65 to ’79 and there’s ups and downs. You see this by who donates and who does things. I often ask myself, ‘What was the difference?’ Well, we had the Vietnam War, and how that influenced peoples’ thinking about being part of a Catholic or military institution. And then I got out of the war. And then we had the Carter years, and then the Reagan years, and it seemed to me … I tell the boys from the Class of ’76, who are two years younger than me, ‘You’re the best class I’ve ever seen, what y’all have contributed to BC.’ … I think ’77 and ’78 were very good classes, too. And ’75 was good. And I like my class. Don’t misunderstand. But we’re just not as organized. I think that had a lot to do with the world events and how we saw the Vietnam War. I joined the military before Ronald Reagan took over. Things had hit a low area from the military point of view in ’79 with the Iranian hostage situation during Jimmy Carter’s administration. There was a big uptick with Ronald Reagan. Watergate is another one of those tick marks. I watched that in history class with Fr. Albert (Bickerstaff). That was the first television news kind of thing that stayed for a long period of time. But, anyway, I think the BC experience is so important. We have got to keep it going.”