James O. Lindberg, a 39-year Corona del Mar resident who will turn 100 in three months, cites “good genes, daily physical exercise and, in particular, a healthy diet” as the keys to his longevity.
The retired Air Force brigadier general, command pilot and onetime foreman of the Orange County grand jury, said “wholesome food served in moderate portions has kept me well, active and alive all these years.”
Lindberg, who purchased his Dahlia Street house in 1979, lives with his daughter, Elizabeth, whom he calls “Liz,” and their 8-year-old dog, Sophie, a miniature Australian shepherd. Every Saturday morning, Liz Lindberg drives her father (he gave up driving two years ago) to Pavilions, where they buy food for the coming week.
“Our main purchase is dinner, which every night consists of a salad and stew that contains carrots, potatoes, onions and other vegetables,” James Lindberg said. “I cook the stew myself in a big pot. It takes about one-and-a-half hours to cook it. For breakfast, I have some fruit, and my lunch is usually a sandwich.”
During their evening meal, Lindberg and his daughter watch the TV news and programs, such as “Wheel of Fortune,” “Jeopardy,” “Father Brown” and “Doc Martin.” He also enjoys old shoot-em-ups like “Gunsmoke.”
“I drink two glasses of vodka with dinner every night,” said Lindberg, who gave up cigarettes and cigars many years ago. “I jogged and swam in the ocean every day until about two years ago. I now need a walker and cane to help with my balance, but I walk in the backyard daily to keep fit.”
“I couldn’t get along without Liz,” he said. “She graduated from Marymount College in Virginia in 1969 when I was stationed at the Pentagon. After graduation, she wrote TV commercials, and later was a script supervisor and director for several television shows. She was the youngest woman to become a member of the Directors Guild of America and was honored for that award on the ‘Merv Griffin Show.’”
Today, the prize-winning equestrienne rides her horse, “Wizzie,” on the trails at Nellie Gail Ranch.
Lindberg, who was born at Pasadena’s Huntington Hospital on May 23, 1918, is the son of a Pasadena grocer who immigrated with his family to the United States in 1902. The future general graduated from Pasadena High School and USC, where he was a business major.
“I pledged Sigma Chi at USC but had to drop out before I became a member because I was working every day after school to pay my tuition and support myself,” he said. “I also was commuting to the university from my home in Pasadena.”
In 1942, a year after he graduated from USC, he won his pilot’s wings, a commission as a USAF second lieutenant and married Jane Berry, his high school sweetheart. Jane died at the age of 44 in 1963 following a lengthy illness.
“We had been married for 22 wonderful years when she passed away,” he said.
Lindberg joined the Army Aviation Cadet program while a USC senior and became an Army Air Corps officer seven months before the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which plunged the U.S. into World War II, then spent several years as a pilot, flight instructor and director of training at a half-dozen Army bases in the West and Midwest.
During his 30-year Army and Air Force career (the USAF became a separate service following the end of WWII), he flew nearly a score of military aircraft ranging from tiny trainers to giant KC-135 aerial refueling tankers and served at another score of bases in the United States, Asia, Europe and South America.
In 1946, he was assigned duty in Colombia, where he helped train that nation’s military pilots and piloted USAF aircraft to assist the Colombian Air Force in aerial mapping a proposed railroad route between Cartagena and Bogota, the capital. The Colombian government later scrapped the project, stating it was infeasible to build the line through mostly uninhabited jungles and mountains.
Under USAF sponsorship, Lindberg spent two years at the University of Pittsburg, where he received a master’s degree in business management. Following duty tours in Germany and France, he was promoted to the position of procurement and logistics director responsible for running all the USAF, Army, Navy and Marine Corps stores, commissaries and post exchanges in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
“I was in Vietnam for about a year-and-a-half, and my office and living quarters were in a building in Cholon, a suburb of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City),” he said. “That building, a former theater, was ringed with barbed wire and heavily guarded. We often heard gunfire and explosions coming from nearby combat between the forces of our ally, South Vietnam, and the communist Viet Cong and North Vietnam Army.”
Lindberg made it a point to personally visit most of the military stores and exchanges in South Vietnam, and he had to reach many of them via Army helicopter, dodging enemy ground fire.
Another challenge he faced was that “so many of our local, Vietnamese employees were stealing anything they could get their hands on from the post exchanges across the country and the supply ships that had brought the goods to the ports in South Vietnam. They stole watches, clothes, food ... anything they could sell on the black market. I was able to put a stop to much of the thievery, but certainly not all of it.”
Promoted to brigadier general in 1966, Lindberg served as USAF director of procurement policy and deputy chief of staff for Systems and Logistics at Air Force headquarters in Washington, D.C., from 1967 until his military retirement in 1970.
His decorations include the Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster and the Joint Services and Air Force commendation medals.
Following retirement, he served for several years as vice president for public affairs at Dart Industries, foreman of the Orange County grand jury from 1987-89 and nine years on the Orange County Fair Board.
The former owner of a 30-foot Catalina sailboat and member of the Balboa Yacht Club, Lindberg also enjoys visiting his son, Jamie, who served during the Vietnam War as a Marine Corps combat pilot. Following his tour, Jamie became a pilot and then a captain for American Airlines, flying national and international routes for 30 years. A father of two, Jamie Lindberg lives on Balboa Island.
Gen. Lindberg also spends time with his two grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and plays the stock market on his iPad and desktop computer.
He described both he and his house as “antiques.” The house, which was built on an Irvine bean field, was moved in 1913 on horse-drawn wagons from Irvine to Dahlia Street after it was purchased by a Los Angeles doctor and his wife to serve as a summer home.
“I don’t know when it was initially built,” he said. “I have a photo of it, though, that was taken in 1910 when it was an Irvine farmhouse.”
Lindberg has added a second bedroom, bathroom, upstairs office and observation deck since purchasing it.
“Wow!” he exclaimed with relish. “My old house is even older than I am.”
Newport Beach resident DAVID C. HENLEY is a contributor to Times Community News.