James Fleming was born on March 12, 1943, in Sedalia, Missouri. He was commissioned through the Air Force ROTC program on May 9, 1966, and completed Undergraduate Helicopter Pilot Training in May 1967. Lt Fleming's first assignment was with the 862nd Combat Support Group at Minot AFB, North Dakota, where he served from June 1967 until July 1968. Fleming began flying combat missions in Southeast Asia with the 20th Special Operations Squadron out of Nha Trang AB in the Republic of Vietnam in July 1968, and was awarded the Medal of Honor for a rescue mission in November of that year. In May 1969, Fleming began fixed-wing aircraft training in the C-141 Starlifter, and flew with the 8th Military Airlift Squadron at McChord AFB, Washington, from June 1970 to August 1971. He next served as an instructor at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Col Fleming's final assignment was at the ROTC detachment at Texas Christian University, where he retired from the Air Force on July 1, 1996.
His Medal of Honor Citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Capt. Fleming (then 1st Lt.) distinguished himself as the Aircraft Commander of a UH-1F transport Helicopter. Capt. Fleming went to the aid of a 6-man special forces long range reconnaissance patrol that was in danger of being overrun by a large, heavily armed hostile force. Despite the knowledge that 1 helicopter had been downed by intense hostile fire, Capt. Fleming descended, and balanced his helicopter on a river bank with the tail boom hanging over open water. The patrol could not penetrate to the landing site and he was forced to withdraw. Dangerously low on fuel, Capt. Fleming repeated his original landing maneuver. Disregarding his own safety, he remained in this exposed position. Hostile fire crashed through his windscreen as the patrol boarded his helicopter. Capt. Fleming made a successful takeoff through a barrage of hostile fire and recovered safely at a forward base. Capt. Fleming's profound concern for his fellowmen, and at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.