Kimmerly proves it’s never too late to pursue your dreams –
By Patricia Beech –
Wednesday, Dec. 7 marked 75 years since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into World War II.
On that fateful day, Jim Kimmerly was just an 18-year-old sailor serving aboard the USS Medusa, a repair ship anchored in the northeast corner of the harbor. Even though it has been 75 years, Kimmerly can still recall watching with horror as Japanese warplanes rained bombs around him and his fellow sailors..
“At first, I thought it was a mock battle,” Kimmerly says. “We were (anchored) pretty close to the USS Utah and the Japanese hit it with torpedoes over and over until it sank; a cruiser next to us got hit by a bomb and a plane crashed onto it; a light cruiser called the SS Riley was torpedoed, but it didn’t sink. We got bombs dropped all around us, and I saw one torpedo go by. That’s when I knew it was the real thing.”
The attack lasted almost two hours and left 2,403 Americans dead and 1,178 injured. Japan formally declared war on the United States that day. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt urged Congress to declare war on Japan on Dec. 8, 1941, and the vote in favor of war was nearly unanimous.
Kimmerly was one of nearly 80 veterans who recently returned to Pearl Harbor to mark the 75th anniversary of the attack. He and his fellow veterans were the guests of honor throughout the event which culminated with a Memorial Parade.
“Me and my daughter rode on top of a Corvette down Waikiki Beach,” Kimmerly said. “People were lined up four and five deep on both sides of the road, it was something else.”
At 93 Kimmerly seems impervious to the effects of time. It’s difficult to imagine him saying no to a new adventure – whether it’s riding in a parade atop a Corvette down Waikiki Beach, or dancing every weekend at the Eagles in Maysville, or appearing with his clogging group on “America’s Got Talent”.
The next big adventure in Kimmerly’s life kicked off after a video of his dance team, The Fancy Free Cloggers, was uploaded onto YouTube. Producers from “America’s Got Talent” spotted the unique troupe and asked them to come to Chicago to audition for the show.
“We danced in front of some judges first, than in front of an audience, which was taped,” said Kimmerly, who was also asked to make a scripted video.
“They interviewed me and they told me what to say – ‘I’m 93, and I’m a Pearl Harbor survivor, and I am a clogger’. I don’t know why they made that video, or whether or not they’re going to put it on television.”
Kimmerly says he feels good about the group’s chance of being called back to perform on the TV show.
“I think they’ll call us,” he says, “We won’t know until January, but I’m pretty sure we’re going to get it.”
Kimmerly says he’s always loved dancing, but didn’t have much opportunity to pursue it when he was a young man.
“I started line dancing when I was 68,” he says. “Then I saw people clogging and I thought I’d like to do that.”
He contacted Evie Poe, Director of the Fancy Free Cloggers, and at the age of 72, he began learning how to clog.
Kimmerly says he now dances with the group once or twice a week, and on weekends he can be found “cutting a rug” at the Eagles Club in Maysville, Ky.
If the Fancy Free Cloggers are chosen to perform on “America’s Got Talent”, they will travel to Los Angeles on an all-expense paid trip, including their air fair and hotel rooms.
“If you get first place you win a million dollars,” says Kimmerly with a wink. “But, it’s just an honor to be asked, and I think if we get on the show, we’ll win – once, I think.”
Whether or not the cloggers are cast on the competitive talent show, Kimmerly is already focused on accomplishing his next big dream. “I’ve always wanted to dance on stage at the Grand Ole Opry,” he says. “And this show might help me get a little closer to doing that.”