11/11/2014 5:26PM

In memory of World War II veteran, and topnotch racing fan, Jim Quinlan


Sgt. James "Jim" Quinlan, who lived near Saratoga Springs, NY, died more than a decade ago.  I knew him from some chance meetings at the track, one visit at a park, a few exchanged Christmas cards, a handful of precious photos he sent.  Yet my thoughts turn to him every Veterans Day because, to me, he is the true representation of a great veteran, gentleman, American.

I don't remember when we met, but, sometime in the early '90s, Jim and I struck up a conversation at Saratoga.  I'll bet we were both carrying cameras, as he'd done at the Spa since at least 1941 (Whirlaway!) and I'd done since a child in the early '70s.  He was very friendly and enthusiastic, a knowledgeable fan of all things racing.   He loved to chat about the glory days of racing, and I love to hear about the glory days of racing.  Conversation came easily.  

As our relationship grew, this elderly gentleman always made me feel extra-special - as if I was the one who recognized the future greatness in a 2-year-old Secretariat or who'd snapped color images of Shut Out (1942) and countless other greats over the decades.  He'd write, "To Barbara Livingston, my favorite photographer" on his envelopes and would sign notes in similar fashion.  He could chat readily about his life, while never bragging.  It seemed he preferred to make others feel good about themselves.

Somewhere along the way, we exchanged addresses and began trading photos - and those he sent were priceless records of our sport's history.  Just imagine:  John Nerud stopped Gallant Man just for Jim's camera while saddling his colt under the trees at Saratoga in 1957.  Jim visited Dancer's Image at a Maryland farm in the 1970s and snapped a lovely image of the dappled grey in his paddock.  He photographed Whirlaway rounding the final turn of the 1941 Travers, in color, not long before leaving to serve his country.

Yet Jim wasn't lost in the past.  He photographed and admired current stars, too, from Lonesome Glory to Banshee Breeze.

You can imagine how it felt to meet this kindred spirit with his ever-ready smile.  How we got talking about the World War II, I'm not sure - but I'll bet, from the first time we spoke of it, talk revolved around his big brother Jack.  Jack was killed in action on April 9, 1944, at age 26, and Jim never got over that profound loss.

Jim had served as the Rifle Squad Leader, L Company, 276 Infantry, 70 Division, and he saw action in both France and Germany.  He was very humble yet, like many veterans, he welcomed the chance to speak of his service.  He once sent me a copy of a typed document about his memories of combat titled "WINGEN."  His eloquent stories, which read like a novel - detailed accounts of advancing lines, bloody battles, and much more - included such disparate passages as these:

"Fighting house to house was quite dangerous combat.  We would rush down the cellar stairs with fixed bayonets, as Germans would often hide in the cellars.  French civilians had learned to live with the war, and carried on normally in the cellars while the war raged in the streets overhead.  One time, when another GI and I burst through the cellar door, we came up on a real fat lady taking a bath.  Man, she was so fat that we didn't even take a second look."

"It was a sad duty to carry these (deceased) men, whom you had trained with, and stack them like cord wood in a barn until Graves Registration could identify them."

I got together with Jim once away from the track to record his racing-related tales - hoping he'd share stories of times when Alfred Vanderbilt was so kind to him, when he first saw Secretariat swagger to the paddock as a copper-coated 2-year-old, what it was like to return to Saratoga in 1946 after the war.  

We met at the peaceful setting of Saratoga's Congress Park and, if I recall correctly, started off with racing chit-chat.  Yet, somehow, discussion turned to the war and, inevitably, to Jack.  We never got around to discussing Mr. Vanderbilt, Secretariat, or other racing memories.

Despite Jim's immeasurable service - and, knowing him, I'm certain he served with complete class and honor - even his remembrances were written, in part, to honor his big brother.  After all, at the end of his war story are just two photos.  One shows Jim's squad checking out a Nazi tank in 1945.  The other, which I'm sure he considered far more important, was a beautiful portrait of Lt. John "Jack" Quinlan.  Under it, Jim wrote, in capital letters: "A REAL WAR HERO - KIA 4-9-44.  A BETTER MAN THAN I."

While I didn't know Jack, it's hard to imagine a man better than Jim.   Happy Veterans Day, my friend.  I thank you for the gift of your priceless horse racing photos, your friendship, and your service.

Above/below:  SHUT OUT, Saratoga, 1942.

Above/below:  Champion steeplechaser TOP BID, Saratoga, 1968.

Above/below:  Elliott Burch with champions Fort Marcy and Run the Gantlet, Saratoga, 1971.

Above/below:  1968 Kentucky Derby victor Dancer's Image at stud in Maryland - undated image.

Above:  A delightful letter from Jim that accompanied his 1995 Christmas card.

Above:  Detail of a letter sent to Jim, related to the day his brother Jack was killed.  The very detailed correspondence was from a gentleman named Oscar A. Williamson of Fort Lauderdale, FL (Mr. Williamson did not sign his name with mention of a military rank).

Above/below:  Jim Quinlan's written remembrances - seven pages worth - of his time in World War II.  An undated but fairly recent newspaper article writes, of Jim's Company L, "Nearly 210 men left for the mission; only 65 returned alive."

Above: Obituary/story about John 'Jack' Quinlan, who died April 9, 1944.  I was unable to find an online obituary for my friend Jim Quinlan, who was born June 9, 1921 and died on July 2, 2001.  Jack and Jim are both buried at Memory's Garden near Albany, New York.

I was also unable to locate the Gallant Man and other prints that Jim sent, although I still have them.  I hope to feature them in a future blog post.

Above:  Jim Quinlan at Saratoga's Congress Park, 1999.  On the negative sleeve, I wrote, "9/99, Jim Quinlan (friend).  Photographed at Saratoga since 1941!"