There aren’t too many surviving faculty members from North High School’s inaugural 1953-54 school year.
And there aren’t too many fighter pilots still around from World War II.
Jordan “Turk” Eliades makes both lists.
Eliades, 93, taught and coached at North for 32 years prior to retiring in 1985. That means he’s been retired nearly as long as he taught and coached.
North was Bakersfield’s third public high school when it opened in 1953, joining Bakersfield and East Bakersfield high schools. Garces was the county’s lone private high school.
He was the Stars’ first head football coach, where he compiled a 175-117-8 record.
Eliades was equally passionate as a math instructor.
“North High is North High because of Turk Eliades,” said Jack O’Brien, who came to the school in 1970 as a teacher and coach and served as one of Eliades’ assistants for 15 seasons.
“He’s synonymous with Oildale,” said Curt DeRossett, who’s still on the North faculty and was one of Eliades’ assistants for two seasons before becoming one of the most successful girls basketball coaches in Central Section history. “He was such a positive influence with thousands of kids, and not just athletes. His (math) students, too.”
Whether it was coaching football or teaching math, Eliades’ passion was off the charts.
He wasn’t shy about dressing down officials when he disagreed with a call, or getting into his players’ faces when needed.
“Coach didn’t allow any prima donnas,” said Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson, who played for Eliades in the early 1980s and was an All-City lineman.
Even though he was a star player, Williamson said he wasn’t immune from criticism if warranted.
“I got the same treatment if I needed to get dressed down,” Williamson said.
Williamson also took math classes taught by Eliades.
“He had that intensity in the classroom,” Williamson said. “I’d sit in the back. I was a talker.”
Not a good idea.
“Turk Eliades’ students would have chalk marks on them from when he threw erasers at them when they screwed up,” O’Brien said. “That was a badge of honor for a student.”
“He got me,” Williamson said with a laugh.
“You couldn’t do that today,” O’Brien said. “He coached the same way.
“He was a perfectionist. He expected it and we’d stay out there until it was done. It wasn’t a half-hour practice. We got after it.”
Sent to Bakersfield
Eliades was raised in McGill, Nev., a town of about 1,100 in eastern Nevada. He attended White Pine High School in Ely, Nev., located about 13 miles from McGill.
Eliades accepted a football scholarship to the University of Nevada in Reno and was a freshman when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941.
“We had just finished our last game when we declared war on Japan,” Eliades said from the living room of the Oildale home he’s lived in since 1955. “I knew I’d have to go in (the service) one way or another.”
Eliades was among a group of students who headed to Sacramento.
“The Air Force sounded good to me so I applied,” he said.
It would be a year before he was called to active duty. “I think it was Jan. 2, 1943. I had to report to Salt Lake City,” he said.
Eliades was assigned to Tucson, Ariz., where he learned to fly. Then he was sent to Bakersfield. “I learned more about flying here than at any other time,” he said.
He was eventually sent to Luke Field in Phoenix. “That’s where we graduated and we were commissioned,” he said.
Eliades was sent to San Antonio, Texas, to be an instructor, then sent back to Bakersfield and assigned to Minter Field in Shafter where he spent several months instructing cadets.
Eventually, Eliades and some of his fellow instructors signed up to go overseas.
“We trained in P40s all the time I was in the states,” he said. “When we got to England, we got checked out in a P51.
“I want to tell you: When I hit that accelerator, the difference between that P40 and that P51 was night and day. … It was just a superior airplane.”
The P51 was a fighter aircraft that was mainly used to escort bombers in raids over Germany.
“Most of what we did was strafing,” Eliades said. “We’d strafe airfields. We’d meet the bombers at a certain point, escort them to the target and come back with them until they were in friendly territory. Then we’d go and look for airfields to strafe.”
Eliades said he can only recall one time when he went went against German fighters.
“All of a sudden we got involved with a bunch of them and I got on the tail of one of them and I shot him down.”
German fighters preferred not to take on the American fighters, he said.
“They didn’t make any attempt to fight with us at all. They just zoomed down to get back to the airfields…. The moment you decided you wanted to do something, they just took off.”
Shot down and being a POW
Eliades’ aircraft had a mechanical problem during a mission in November 1944. He was able to put the plane down on a plowed field and was uninjured.
“Here comes the farmers and everything else,” he said. “I was in France and nobody could speak English. I was very fortunate.”
Eliades was quickly reunited with his squadron.
He wasn’t as fortunate in a subsequent mission, which he said was led by an inexperienced officer.
It was an overcast day and Eliades brought his plane below the cloud cover.
“I remember calling him specifically: ‘Are you sure we’re in friendly territory?’
“He said yeah. All of a sudden, I fly right over a flak battery. I got a jolt on the airplane. At first I wasn’t sure anything was wrong. But then I could see the tracers coming and I knew I wasn’t in friendly territory.”
Eliades said he knew he was in trouble. He said he was able to climb to about 1,000 feet so he could bail out safely. He ended up in a ditch.
“The next thing I know there’s a German soldier pointing his gun at me from the top of the bank. I’m getting my hands up in the air. So that was the end of it.”
Eliades was brought to a prisoner of war camp near the German town of Barth, where he’d remain for about six months until the camp was liberated. Eliades said he’s spoken to many high school students about that experience.
“The first thing they want to know: Did they beat you?” Eliades said. “That was not the case at all.”
But he was interrogated.
“The guy’s asking you a lot of questions about the 8th Air Force,” Eliades said. “He knew more about the 8th Air Force than I did. … I told them all I had to do was give my name, rank and serial number.”
During his time in the POW camp, Eliades said the worst thing he saw was an American prisoner shot to death.
“But it wasn’t the fault of the Germans. It was the fault of the individual,” Eliades said. “It happened to be that there was an air raid. The moment you had an air raid the siren would go on and you had to get back into the barracks.”
On this day, the prisoner stayed outside waving his arms at the planes flying overhead.
“And we’re screaming at him, ‘Get the hell back in the barracks’ and he wouldn’t go. They turned the guys on him and they shot him right there. They were making every effort to get everyone back in those barracks.”
Eliades said the prisoners in his compound were able to keep abreast of what was happening with the war because one of the men had put together a makeshift radio.
One day Eliades said he saw Americans in the guard towers. The Germans had pulled out the previous night and the Russians liberated the camp later that day.
One more tragedy remained. Eliades and one of his buddies left the camp and walked toward a nearby town.
A group surrounded the bodies of a German family.
“This guy had a youngster, maybe a 4- to 5-year old with his wife,” he said. “The guy took a gun and killed everybody, killed himself and everyone in the family. He had such a fear, I guess, of what the Russians were going to do.”
When Eliades and his buddy reached the town, “it was a rat race. The Russians were going crazy. They were bringing stuff out, burning it, chasing the women, stuff like that.
“Matter of fact, it got so bad the German people came to the camp and asked us for protection from the Russians. What happened afterwards, I don’t know.”
Eliades and the other liberated American POWs were sent to Camp Lucky Strike in France, then to England before returning to the U.S.
“We had a two-week leave, and then we were to report back to Santa Ana. That’s where we were going to be reassigned to the Asiatic theater.”
The war ended before Eliades was sent to the Far East
Returning to civilian life
Less than a month after the Japanese surrendered, Eliades returned to the University of Nevada and was quickly back in class and back playing football.
“They signed me up for five or six courses,” he said. “I was on a plane two days later flying to Oklahoma (for a road game).”
After the war he met his future wife, Cookie, who was also a student at Nevada. They were married on Jan. 30, 1947, and were together for 63 years before she passed away in 2010.
Eliades graduated from Nevada with a degree in education in 1948. He spent a year at USC earning his master’s degree and accepted a job as a teacher and coach at Shafter High in 1950.
That job offer came from Shafter football coach Dan Bledsoe, who was Eliades’ coach at White Pines High School nearly a decade earlier.
“The principal of the school was Jack Hill,” Eliades said. “He was already set up to be the principal at North High School when it opened in 1953.
“Bledsoe was supposed to come to North High School as the varsity football coach and counselor. That was the arrangement. But Dan’s wife didn’t want to leave Shafter. They had made a lot of friends there.
“Dan came to me and said I should apply for the job. That’s how I applied and how I ended up at North.”
Eliades coached the Shafter JVs to a 24-1 record in three seasons before leaving for North.
Eliades said he was urged to become a PE teacher. He declined, preferring to teach math, something he said he had a passion for since he was a youngster.
“I had good luck with my teachers when I was in grade school. I remember I always did well in math.”
He said there was only one time he considered leaving North.
“It must have been in 1956 or ‘57 when the (football coaching) job opened up at the University of Nevada in Reno,” he said. “I had a lot of friends up there. I went up there, we talked, I said I was interested.”
The university wanted to bring Eliades back for a second interview.
“It got down to the point they were considering me,” he said. “And they were considering other people. I told Cookie they asked me to come a second time. The first thing she said was, ‘I don’t want to go back to Nevada.’ That took care of that. I don’t know if I would’ve gotten the job or not.”
Eliades said he never considered leaving North for another job in the Kern High School District.
“To me, we were the school on the other side of the river and that was a challenge to me.”
Eliades was 62 when he announced his retirement in the spring of 1985 in his 32nd year at North.
“I told Cookie, and this was years earlier, that when I get to draw my social security, when I get to be 62, then I’m going to quit. I’d been doing it a long time. It was just time to do it.”
Eliades, who also coached golf, led the Stars to the playoffs four times. The 1954 team won the Central Section’s Small-Schools Division title in a one-game playoff.
He said his best team was probably the 1971 squad that went 7-2.
During his coaching career, many local coaches were active who would have lengthy coaching careers, such as Paul Briggs at Bakersfield High, Larry Lafond at South, Marger (Migs) Aspit at East, Chuck Chamberlain at Arvin and Ned Permenter at Foothill. Tehachapi’s Steve Denman is the only current local football coach who’s been at it for more than 30 years.
“It’s not the same anymore,” Eliades said. “Now you see guys coaching for three or four years and giving it up.”
Two of his players, Vern Burke and Randy Rich, had several year careers in the NFL.
Working with students and seeing them develop was one of his favorite aspects of teaching and coaching.
“I want to tell you: When you get those good ones who are really capable, you can’t do enough for them,” he said.
He still has an annual fishing trip to June Lake with some of his former players. Eliades was also among more than 90 attendees on the 2012 Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
And there’s his name.
Born Jordan Eliades, the nickname “Turk” was given to him by his childhood friends in McGill, Nev.
“All the kids had nicknames. I have a book with the nicknames for every kid in that town,” Eliades said.
Eliades is Greek, although he said his parents were born in Turkey.
“A bunch of us kids were playing in the back yard,” Eliades said. “My mom and dad are talking, and they were talking Turkish. That’s where it came from.
“My mom really used to get upset about that.”
Turk Eliades file
Hometown: McGill, Nev.
Colleges: University of Nevada, USC
At North: 1953-1985
Family: Wife Cookie (deceased); daughter Jane Eliades Davidsaver, sons Tim, Daniel and Jay; grandchildren Jill and Jason Davidsaver and Jordan Eliades
Honors: North High football stadium named Eliades Field in his honor; member of inaugural North High Hall of Fame in 2013; inducted into Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame in 1991; member of White Pine High School (Nev.) Hall of Fame.