Eugene James was born on June 2, 1922, in Brewton, Alabama. He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet program of the U.S. Navy on July 31, 1942, and when approaching the completion of flight training he switched to the U.S. Marine Corps to follow his best friend, which cost him an extra $450 for new Marine Corps uniforms. He was commissioned a 2d Lt in the U.S. Marine Corps and designated a Marine Aviator at NAS Pensacola, Florida, on October 6, 1943. Lt James next completed F4U Corsair training at NAS Jacksonville, Florida, before being assigned to VMF-511 at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina, from December 1943 to May 1945. During this time, he participated in Corsair carrier training in California from July 1944 to February 1945. Lt James deployed to Hawaii in May 1945, and joined VMF-311 flying combat missions at Chimu Airfield, Okinawa, from June to August 1945, followed by occupation duty in Japan from September 1945 to March 1946. He then returned to the U.S., and served with the 5th Marine Corps Recruiting District in Washington, D.C., from May to July 1946, followed by service with VMF-251 at Grosse Isle, Michigan, from July 1946 to April 1949. Capt James left active duty on April 13, 1949, and served with the 12th Marine Corps Recruiting District in San Francisco, California, from April 1949 until he was recalled to active duty on December 15, 1951. He served with Marine Training Group 10 at MCAS El Toro, California, from December 1951 to February 1952, and then served with VMF-235 at MCAS El Toro from February to September 1952. Capt James joined VMA-312 in Korea in October 1952, flying combat missions from the aircraft carriers USS Badoeng Strait (CVE-116) and USS Bataan (CVL-29), until returning to the U.S. in May 1953. He then served as a flight instructor with the Marine Aviation Detachment at NAS Pensacola, Florida, from June 1953 until he left active duty and went back into the Marine Corps Reserve on June 21, 1956. Maj James again served with the 12th Marine Corps Recruiting District in San Francisco from July 1956 to January 1957, and then was assigned to the inactive reserves at NAS Glenview, Illinois, until his retirement on July 1, 1959.
His 2nd Distinguished Flying Cross Citation reads:
For heroism and extraordinary achievement in aerial flight as Pilot of a Plane in carrier based Marine Attack Squadron THREE HUNDRED TWELVE during operations against enemy aggressor forces in Korea on 24 February 1953. Participating in the rescue of a downed Marine aviator who was surrounded and being fired upon by enemy troops deep in hostile territory, Captain James conducted a series of daring low-level strafing assaults, intentionally drawing the heavy enemy fire away from the downed pilot. Undeterred when his plane was hit and severely damaged by intense and accurate hostile antiaircraft fire, he continued to maneuver the stricken aircraft at minimum altitude and, on several occasions, succeeded in completely suppressing all ground fire directed at the downed aviator. In addition, he skillfully provided covering fire that kept the enemy troops from advancing and allowed the helicopter to effect a successful rescue less than two hours after the pilot had crash-landed. By his outstanding airmanship, courage and steadfast devotion to duty, Captain James was greatly responsible for the success of a mission that resulted in the saving of a fellow Marine's life and in the infliction of heavy casualties upon the enemy, thereby upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.