James Hopkins Berger, a retired purchasing agent who in his youth earned a Carnegie Hero Award for saving the lives of two family members during a 1958 Roland Park house fire, died Dec. 15 of prostate cancer at St. Joseph Medical Center.
The Mays Chapel resident was 71.
The son of a career Army officer and an educator, Mr. Berger was born in Aberdeen and moved to Roland Avenue with his family and later to Guilford.
"He survived polio as a child and his determination to help overcome a paralyzed left side helped him achieve a full recovery," said his wife of 46 years, the former Ann Turner Carroll.
After graduating from Loyola High School in 1959, Mr. Berger earned a bachelor's degree in 1963 from Loyola College.
He was commissioned a second lieutenant after leaving college and served as a heavy mortar platoon leader and later was chief of the records section for the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Wash.
Mr. Berger was discharged from active duty in 1965, but remained in the Maryland National Guard, where he was heavy mortar platoon leader of the 1st Battalion of the 175th Infantry.
During the 1968 Baltimore riots, he served as a rifle company commander. He held other leadership positions with the Maryland National Guard until retiring in 1991 with the rank of colonel.
Mr. Berger began his business career in 1966 as an expediter in purchasing for Bendix Friez in Towson.
Two years later, he joined Koppers Corp. — which later became Environmental Elements Corp. — where he worked as a buyer, branch manager and international fabrication buyer.
Mr. Berger worked on the first Russian pipeline in Central Asia in 1976, and then for the next 12 years, was material manager in EEC's manufacturing plant.
From 1988 to the early 1990s, he worked in international purchasing. He then became manager of purchasing and transportation for the company.
He retired in 2000.
Mr. Berger, who was 18 at the time, was living in his cousin's 25-room stucco house at 4708 Roland Ave. when a fire broke out late in the evening of Saturday, Nov. 15, 1958.
Miles Hopkins and Vincent Berger were laying ceramic tile in the kitchen when fumes from the liquid glue suddenly exploded.
The first alarm was sounded at 10:07 p.m., which was quickly followed by two more, bringing 17 pieces of apparatus to battle the blaze.
According to news accounts published at the time of the fire, within minutes the second story of the house was totally engulfed in flames.
James Berger and Joseph Carroll Hopkins, a 39-year-old portrait painter and uncle of Carroll Francis Hopkins Jr., 21/2 , sought to rescue the baby from his crib.
Mr. Hopkins was thwarted in his attempt to get downstairs by the smoke and flames, and returned to the baby's room.
"When Jim got there, he found his uncle collapsed on the floor and he picked him up and got him to the window for some air," said Mrs. Berger.
As Mr. Berger held the baby, Mr. Hopkins crawled out onto the roof and then slipped and fell 29 feet to the ground, which resulted in a broken pelvis.
With the baby firmly clenched in his arms, Mr. Berger jumped. The baby suffered burns to his face and arms, while Mr. Berger sustained a broken ankle and wrist, and facial burns.
"Jim hit the ground and rolled with the baby. Mrs. Deely Nice, who was a family friend and a nurse, came up and told him not to move," said Mrs. Berger.
"Jim didn't talk much about it. He'd say, 'It's over.' You really had to prod him," his wife said. "It was horrific. I remember him telling me that the firemen wouldn't go into the house. He said he put a handkerchief over his nose and said a prayer."
In 1959, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission presented bronze medals to the two men for heroism in saving the baby's life.
"He was a humble hero and as the Jesuits say, a 'man for others,'" said his wife.
Mr. Berger, who had lived on Hopkins Road in Rodgers Forge, was an accomplished woodworker who enjoyed building furniture. An avid reader, he also liked drawing and painting watercolors.
He looked forward to an annual Easter vacation with family in Cape May, family members said.
He was a member of the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Maryland and the Sons of the Revolution.
He was a former longtime communicant of St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church in Rodgers Forge.
Mrs. Berger said her husband always maintained a positive disposition even though in recent years he had been in declining health.
"He always focused on the next big thing in his life," she said.
Mr. Berger was a communicant of St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Community of Hunt Valley, where a Mass of Christian burial was offered Tuesday.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Berger is survived by two sons, James Hopkins Berger Jr. of Towson and Vincent Paul Berger II of Lakeville, Minn.; a daughter, Ann Carroll Berger Wibbelsman of Rumson, N.J.; a sister, Jo Carroll Buell of Timonium; and nine grandchildren.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun