Jim Berger was born on November 6, 1938, in Charleston, West Virginia. He enlisted in the Virginia Army National Guard on August 23, 1956, and served until entering the Army Reserve on August 23, 1959. Berger then transferred to the Air Force Reserve on May 18, 1960, and was commissioned a 2d Lt in the Air Force Reserve on June 10, 1961, going on active duty beginning October 7, 1961. After completing the Base Civil Engineer Officer Course, he served as a Civil Engineer in San Francisco, California, from December 1961 to June 1964, followed by Undergraduate Pilot Training from June 1964 to June 1965, when he was awarded his pilot wings at Webb AFB, Texas. Lt Berger next completed F-4 Phantom II Combat Crew Training before serving as an F-4 pilot with the 46th Tactical Fighter Squadron at MacDill AFB, Florida, from January to May 1966. After completing Pilot Systems Officer training, Capt Berger served with the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Da Nang AB, South Vietnam, from October 1966 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on December 2, 1966. After spending 2,271 days in captivity, Maj Berger was released during Operation Homecoming on February 18, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at Sheppard AFB, Texas, and then completed Recurrency Pilot Training and Instructor Pilot Training. His next assignment was as an instructor pilot with the 88th Flying Training Squadron at Sheppard AFB, Texas, from April 1974 to August 1976, followed by service as Field Training Section Chief, Operations Branch Chief, and finally as Commander of the 3612th Combat Crew Training Squadron at Fairchild AFB, Washington, from August 1976 to January 1980. Col Berger served as Commander of the 92nd Services Squadron of the 92nd Combat Support Group at Fairchild AFB from January 1980 to April 1982, and then as Commander of the 305th Services Squadron at Grissom AFB, Indiana, from April 1982 until his retirement from the Air Force on May 1, 1984. James Berger died on October 9, 2015, and was buried at the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington, Virginia.
His 1st (of 2) Silver Star Citation reads:
Captain James R. Berger distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force over North Vietnam on 25 November 1966. On that date, on two separate missions, he conducted air to ground operations against a heavily defended surface to air missile convoy that had been discovered moving South toward the Demilitarized Zone. On the second mission of that day, Captain Berger's aircraft was hit by hostile ground fire, but the crew continued to press multiple attacks until their ordnance was expended, then with complete disregard for their own safety and completely defenseless, they continued to make multiple dry passes against the defenses drawing enemy ground fire away from the other aircraft in his flight. This courageous and aggressive act against overwhelming odds resulted in the destruction of an important target. By his gallantry and devotion to duty Captain Berger has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.