James Peter Werlock of Mainesburg, Pennsylvania, died of heart failure on February 16th, 2022, at Fox Run, the house he built with his own hands on Armenia Mountain. Together with Abby Holmes Potter, his wife of nearly 53 years, he loved the splendor, the independence and the tranquility of the Pennsylvania mountains where they married in 1969 at Woodburn, Abby’s family home.
Born on March 6th, 1941, in Plainfield, New Jersey, Jim attended Plainfield High School, the Stanton Preparatory Academy and the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, where he graduated in 1962. After completing courses at the U.S. Navy Submarine Training School in New London, Connecticut, he served during the Cold War aboard the USS Sterlet, a World War II submarine that had regular six-month deployments to the Western Pacific. While aboard the Sterlet he qualified for submarines and was awarded the coveted Gold Dolphin insignia. He then transferred to the USS Wahoo, based at Pearl Harbor, with frequent deployments to Japan, until 1966 when he volunteered for the first of two tours during the Vietnam War.
After completion of 6 months of special warfare training and Vietnamese language school, he was assigned as an advisor to the 24/25th Vietnamese Navy River Assault Group (RAG), the most decorated Vietnamese combat unit. The RAG conducted operations against the Viet Cong in the Southern Mekong Delta and provided support to the US Navy Delta River Patrol Force and Mobile Riverine Force. The next two years found him at US Naval Headquarters in London where he worked as a Naval Intelligence Officer. His final tour of duty was with the US Military Advisory Group in Bangkok, Thailand.
Jim was awarded a number of naval awards and citations, including The Bronze Star, Joint Service Commendation, and Navy Commendation Medal with Combat V, and the Combat Action, Presidential and Navy Unit Commendation ribbons. His Vietnamese awards meant a great deal to him; they include the Cross of Gallantry (division level), the Armed Forces Honor, the Staff Service (First Class) medals, and the Cross of Gallantry unit citation (Army level) ribbon for the River Assault Group's gallant defense of the city of Can Tho during the Tet Offensive.
As a submariner, Jim loved the Navy, but he resigned in 1972 to live an entirely different sort of life. He and Abby moved to England, where Abby studied for her doctoral degree at the University of Sussex and Jim tried his hand at various sorts of writing. They then lived in Seville, Spain, where Jim completed a novel about Vietnam while Abby taught at Columbus International College and the University of Maryland. He wrote and performed editorial work in Seville and subsequently in New York City; Washington, DC; Clinton, New York; and Northfield, Minnesota, finally retiring to Armenia Mountain in 1999.
His boyhood experiences included building the family house in Plainfield, New Jersey, and enlarging the Shelter Cove summer house with his father, and in retirement he realized the full extent of his skills. He not only helped restore Woodburn to a degree of historical accuracy, but built Fox Run, the home he and Abby had enjoyed since 2000.
He also drew on boyhood experiences with the family World War II Victory Garden, and together he and Abby created extensive and much-appreciated gardens at Woodburn and Fox Run. In addition, because of Jim’s vivid memories of the family roosters named Sergeant and Corporal and Abby’s lifelong animal attachments, they enthusiastically adopted and cared for four horses, as well as innumerable dogs, cats and birds.
Together they maintained friendships locally, domestically and internationally, and Jim was universally known and loved for his adventurous spirit, his quick wit and his often sardonic sense of humor, all underscored by a deep inner kindness. He and Abby also shared an intense love of travel and of history, particularly regarding the Revolutionary and Civil Wars: they constantly traveled to significant sites and continued to visit friends all over the world.
Throughout his life, however, Jim never lost his Navy connections and enjoyed attending regular USNA class reunions. His was indeed a life well lived. In the words of one of his Annapolis company classmates, "Eight bells, Jim. You stood a taut watch!”
Jim is survived by his wife Abby; sister Verna Cobb of Newburgh, New York; brother Stephen Werlock of Gig Harbor, Washington; numerous cousins, nephews and nieces; and special friends Ellen and Bernie McMahon of Washington, DC; Christina Brandon of Norfolk, Virginia; Lindy Neese of Clifton, Virginia; and Regine Matthijsen of Eindhoven, Holland.
The Celebration of Jim Werlock’s Life will be held at Woodburn, the date to be announced.
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