James Wilson was born on March 7, 1917, in Rawlins, Wyoming. He entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on July 27, 1935, and graduated with a commission as a 2d Lt in the U.S. Army Air Corps on June 12, 1939. Lt Wilson entered the Glenview School of Aeronautics in September 1939, and then attended flight training at Kelly Field and Randolph Field, Texas, earning his pilot wings in July 1940. He served with the 19th Bomb Group at March Field, California, from July 1940 to August 1941, and then with the 47th Light Bomb Group at Hammer Field, California, and Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma, from August 1941 to April 1942. His next assignment was as Commander of the 423rd Bomb Squadron of the 306th Bomb Group at Wendover, Utah, from April to August 1942, and then deployed to England from August 1942 to July 1943, when he was badly wounded during a bombing mission over Europe. Col Wilson served as Director of B-17 Combat Crew Training at Ardmore Air Field, Oklahoma, from October 1943 to March 1944, and then served as Plans Officer for 20th Bomber Command at Headquarters Army Air Forces in Washington, D.C., from March to August 1944. He returned to combat in August 1944 as Commander of the 92nd Bomb Group in England, serving in this position until October 1945. Col Wilson next served as a project officer in the Research Division of Air University at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, from March 1946 to August 1947, followed by Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell from August 1947 to July 1948. His next assignment was as Chief Liaison Officer to the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., from July 1948 to August 1952, and then as Deputy Commander of the 305th Bomb Wing at MacDill AFB, Florida, from August 1952 to August 1953. Gen Wilson served as Commander of the 307th Bomb Wing on Okinawa from August 1953 to May 1954, and then as Commander of the 305th Bomb Wing at MacDill AFB from May 1954 to February 1956. His next assignment was as Commander of the 802nd Air Division at Schilling AFB, Kansas, from February 1956 to March 1958, followed by service as Commander of the 820th Air Division at Plattsburgh AFB, New York, from March 1958 to July 1959. Gen Wilson served as Inspector General at Headquarters Strategic Air Command at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, from July 1959 to July 1960, and then served as Director of Material at SAC Headquarters from July 1960 to July 1964. His next assignment was as Deputy Commander of 15th Air Force at March AFB, California, followed by service as Commander of 13th Air Force at Clark AB in the Philippines in support of the Vietnam War from July 1965 to August 1967. His final assignment was as Vice Commander of Military Airlift Command at Scott AFB, Illinois, from August 1967 until his retirement from the Air Force on February 1, 1970. James Wilson died on October 5, 2001, and was buried at the Air Force Academy Cemetery in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
His Distinguished Service Cross Citation reads:
For extraordinary heroism while participating on a bombing mission over enemy-occupied Europe, 26 June 1943. Before the target was reached, the aircraft in which he was serving as co-pilot was attacked by three enemy airplanes. A cannon shell exploded in the cockpit, killed the pilot, and Lieutenant Colonel Wilson's hands were severely burned in the resultant fire. Despite the excruciating pain from burns which left his hands almost without skin, and with complete disregard for his personal safety, Lieutenant Colonel Wilson courageously flew his airplane on to the target and successfully bombed it. Taking violent evasive action to ward off enemy fighters who concentrated their attacks on his crippled aircraft, this officer heroically fought his way back to the English coast. The extraordinary heroism, courage, and skill displayed on this occasion by Lieutenant Colonel Wilson reflect the highest credit upon himself and the armed forces of the United States.