Jim Shirley was born on March 20, 1920, in Westminster, North Carolina. He received a Bachelor's Degree in Industrial Education from Clemson College before entering the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Navy on June 3, 1941. Shirley was commissioned an Ensign and designated a Naval Aviator on February 9, 1942, and then served as a flight instructor at NAS Pensacola, Florida, until October 1943. He next went through Operations Training at NAS Jacksonville, Florida, before joining VF-27 in January 1944. Lt Shirley was credited with the destruction of 12.5 enemy aircraft in aerial combat before transferring out of VF-27 in September 1945. He was on the staff of Naval Air Technical Training Command at NAS Pensacola from December 1945 to July 1948, followed by service as an Admin Officer with VR-8 in the Pacific from September 1948 to September 1949. CDR Shirley next served as Deputy Comptroller for PACDMATS from September 1949 to May 1951, and then served on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations in the Pentagon until September 1951. He attended George Washington University for post-graduate studies from September 1951 to May 1952, and then served in Aviation Plans and Programs on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations until July 1953. His next assignment was as Assistant Air Officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lake Champlain (CVA-39) from August 1953 to September 1954, followed by Assistant Air Officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) from September 1954 to March 1955. After completing Jet Transition Training, CDR Shirley served as Commanding Officer of VF-82 from June 1955 to August 1956, and then served as Comptroller at NAS Cecil Field, Florida, from September 1956 to September 1957. He served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42) from September 1957 to April 1961, and then on the staff of the Commander Naval Air Force U.S. Atlantic Fleet from April 1961 to June 1963. Capt Shirley's final assignment was on the staff of the Commander in Chief of U.S. Naval Forces Europe from June 1963 until his retirement from the Navy on February 1, 1968. Jim Shirley died on June 18, 2001, and was buried at the Barrancas National Cemetery at NAS Pensacola, Florida.
His Navy Cross Citation reads:
For extraordinary heroism as Pilot of a Fighter Plane in Fighting Squadron TWENTY-TWO, attached to the U.S.S. PRINCETON, in action against enemy Japanese forces during the Battle for Leyte Gulf, October 24, 1944. Skilled and aggressive in a large group of enemy planes attempting to attack our Task Force and pressed home his attack to shoot down five enemy planes and to inflict severe damage on two others. Although his plane was struck several times by enemy fire, he continued to engage the enemy until his ammunition and fuel were exhausted. His high combat efficiency, courage and devotion to duty were instrumental in preventing damage to our ships and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.