James Thames was born on June 26, 1943, in Millford, Delaware. After completing his bachelor's degree at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, he entered the U.S. Naval Reserve to attend Officer Candidate School on August 24, 1966, going on active duty beginning October 22, 1966. Thames was commissioned an Ensign through OCS at Newport, Rhode Island, on March 10, 1967, and then attended Underwater Demolition Team Replacement training with Class 40 (East Coast) at NAB Little Creek, Virginia, from March to August 1967. His first assignment was with UDT-21 from August 1967 to April 1968, followed by service with SEAL Team TWO from May 1968 to November 1969. During this time, LT Thames deployed with his Team to South Vietnam from December 1968 to June 1969. He served with the Naval Amphibious School at NAB Coronado, California, from November 1969 to September 1970, followed by service with SEAL Team ONE from September 1970 until he was killed in action in South Vietnam on January 19, 1971, having deployed with his Team to Southeast Asia in December 1970. James Thames was buried at the H. Warren Smith Memorial Cemetery in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.
His 3rd Bronze Star Medal w/Valor Citation reads:
For meritorious achievement while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in armed conflict against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong communist aggressors in the Republic of Vietnam from 7 December 1970 to 19 January 1971. While serving as Officer in Charge of Group Delta, Sierra Detachment of United States Navy SEAL Team One, Lieutenant Thames performed his duties in an exemplary manner. Primarily responsible for providing advice, training and assistance in the overall employment of a Vietnamese Navy SEAL platoon, he consistently provided sound judgement and advised his Vietnamese counterparts. A typical example of Lieutenant Thames' tact and profound leadership occurred on 15 January 1971 when he led a waterborne insertion against a suspected enemy political cadre. After four days of intensive planning, coordination and efforts to secure supporting forces, he directed his group to a well-concealed point deep inside enemy territory. Dividing his group into two elements, Lieutenant Thames led them in search of the suspected enemy. As a result of that mission, two Viet Cong infrastructure were eventually captured as the SEALs extracted safely. Lieutenant Thames' exemplary professionalism, courage under fire and untiring devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
The Combat Distinguishing Device is authorized.