General James was born in 1920, in Pensacola, FL, where he graduated from Washington High School in June 1937. From September 1937 to March 1942, he attended Tuskegee Institute, where he received a bachelor of science degree in physical education and completed civilian pilot training under the government-sponsored Civilian Pilot Training Program.
He remained at Tuskegee as a civilian instructor pilot in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program until January 1943, when he entered the program as a cadet and received his commission as a second lieutenant in July 1943. He next completed fighter pilot combat training at Selfridge Field, MI, and was assigned to various units in the United States for the next six years.
In September 1949, General James went to the Philippines as flight leader for the 12th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 18th Fighter Wing, at Clark Field. In July 1950 he left for Korea, where he flew 101 combat missions in F-51 and F-80 aircraft.
General James returned to the United States and in July 1951 went to Otis Air Force Base, MA, as an all-weather jet fighter pilot with the 58th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron and later became operations officer. In April 1953 he became commander of the 437th FIS, and in August 1955 he assumed command of the 60th FIS. While stationed at Otis, he received the Massachusetts Junior Chamber of Commerce 1954 award of "Young Man of the Year" for his outstanding community relations efforts. He graduated from the Air Command and Staff College in June 1957.
General James next was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Force as a staff officer in the Air Defense Division of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations. In July 1960 he was transferred to the Royal Air Force Station at Bentwaters, England, where he served successively as assistant director of operations and then director of operations, 81st Tactical Fighter Wing; commander, 92nd Tactical Fighter Squadron; and deputy commander for operations for the 81st Wing. In September 1964 General James was transferred to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, AZ, where he was director of operations training and later deputy commander for operations for the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Wing.
General James went to Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, in December 1966, as deputy commander for operations, 8th TFW, and in June 1967 was named wing vice commander. He flew 78 combat missions into North Vietnam, many in the Hanoi/Haiphong area, and led a flight into the Bolo Mig sweep in which seven Communist Mig 21s were destroyed, the highest total kill of any mission during the Vietnam War.
He was named vice commander of the 33d TFW at Eglin Air Force Base, FL, in December 1967. While stationed at Eglin, the Florida State Jaycees named General James as Florida's Outstanding American of the Year for 1969, and he received the Jaycee Distinguished Service Award. He was transferred to Wheelus Air Base in the Libyan Arab Republic in August 1969 as Commander of the 7272d Fighter Training Wing.
General James became deputy assistant secretary of defense (public affairs) in March 1970 and was designated principal deputy assistant secretary of defense (public affairs) in April 1973. He assumed duty as vice commander of the Military Airlift Command, with headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, IL, September 1, 1974.
General James was promoted to four-star grade and assigned as commander in chief, NORAD/ADCOM, Peterson Air Force Base, CO, September 1, 1975. In these dual capacities, he had operational command of all United States and Canadian strategic aerospace defense forces. He assumed his final assignment as special assistant to the chief of staff, U.S. Air Force, December 6, 1977.