James Andrew Vais
Resident of Alameda
Beloved uncle and friend to many, James Andrew Vais passed away from natural causes at Sunrise Senior Living in San Rafael, California at the age of 96 years old.
Jim grew up in the Ingleside district of San Francisco, the middle son of Andreas D. Vais and Letizia B. Vais of 180 Granada Avenue, with older brother Lawrence and younger brother Andrew. He attended Farragut Elementary School, Aptos Junior High School, and graduated from Lick Wilmerding High School with the Class of 42J.
Upon graduation, Vais joined the US Marine Corps in March 1943. After completing basic training in San Diego, he went on to the Naval Air Tech Training Center in Memphis to receive training as a Machinist’s Mate. He then received further instruction as a Radar Operator, scoring 1st in his class of 90. After a year of preparation, Vais shipped out to the South Pacific, eventually arriving in Guam with Marine Air Group 21 shortly after the island’s liberation. He stayed on Guam through April 1945.
After the war, Vais was stationed in Cherry Point, North Carolina, and then Miramar, California, where he received further in-flight training as a radar operator flying back seat in a Marine night fighter. Upon completion in 1947, he transferred into the USMC active reserve and started college, first at San Francisco City College, then at UC Berkeley.
However, Jim’s studies at Cal were interrupted when he was called back into active duty in August 1950 and shipped overseas to Korea. Assigned to VMF(N)-542, a night fighter squadron with the US Marines flying in the F7F-3N Tigercat, he saw action throughout the first seven months of the Korean conflict, primarily with pilot Wendell Garton. They flew 50 nighttime reconnaissance and combat air support missions, and performed decisively at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, providing close air support for the 1st Marine Division’s escape. He also participated in a secret photo recon mission over Russia in the height of the conflict. In recognition of his feats, Vais received the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals.
Upon his return, Vais completed his BS degree in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering from UC Berkeley in 1953. National Automotive Fibres, Inc. promptly hired him, where he was employed seven years, achieving the position of Chief Standards Engineer.
Vais next joined Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical in downtown Oakland, where he enjoyed a 29-year career. At Kaiser, Vais became an expert in global aluminum market forecasting, rising to become Kaiser Aluminum’s Director of Economic and Marketing Research. He also participated as a member of the globally influential Aluminum Association, before retiring from Kaiser in 1989.
A longtime resident of Alameda, Jim was the Vais family historian, a role he relished. Traveling to Europe frequently on Kaiser business, he initiated close relations with his mother Letizia’s extended family residing around Ivrea, Italy, as well as those living in the south of France. He also established connections with his father Andreas’s remaining family in Karia, Greece. Jim’s lifelong attachments with his European aunts, uncles and cousins have ensured that close familial ties will be maintained for future generations.
Vais, aka Uncle Jimmy, was also close with his niece and nephews in the Bay Area. He kept a photographic chronicle of the family groupings year after year, played the demanding uncle role with thoughtful engagement, and delivered crushing holiday handshakes. In later years, he enjoyed weekly twilight golf outings at Alameda Muni with his nephews and Kaiser friends, followed by a well-prepared dinner with wine and tall tales in his Alameda home. He will be long remembered for his version of a culinary compliment…“ you blundered into a winner!”
He is survived by his niece Laura Vais, and nephews Christopher, Kenneth, James, Bryan, and Paul Vais, their wives, and multiple great nieces and great nephews. Uncle Jim’s ashes will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery on October 6, 2021, with family in attendance.