After graduating from Pomona College in Claremont, California in 1937, Howard enlisted in the United States Navy as an aviation cadet in January of 1938 and was commissioned as an Ensign and received his Wings of Gold as a Naval Aviator a year later. He was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) operating from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Howard chose to leave the Navy in June, 1941 to join the 1st American Volunteer Group - the famous "Flying Tigers" fighting against the Japanese over Burma and China.
Howard was credited with six "kills" of enemy aircraft during the 56 missions he flew with the Flying Tigers. Upon their disbandment in July, 1942 he returned to the United States. Flying Tiger veterans, like "Pappy" Boyington and Howard, were sought after as aviation leaders. Howard was commissioned as a Captain in the United States Army Air Forces and was trained to fly the North American P-51 Mustang.
Howard was promoted to Major in 1943 and given command of the 354th Fighter Group's 356th Fighter Squadron, flying from Britain primarily on bomber escort missions for the Eighth Air Force's Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses and Consolidated B-24 Liberators.
On January 11, 1944, the Eighth Air Force mounted its largest single raid of the war to date against Nazi aircraft manufacturing plants at Oschersleben, Germany. The lead attack formation was the 401st Bombardment Group (Heavy), and they faced some of the most intense opposition they had ever seen from enemy flak and fighters.
Poor weather had separated the bombers from their fighter escorts, and Luftwaffe Messerschmitts, Focke-Wulfs, and Dorniers feasted on the vulnerable American bombers. Then, through the clouds, one P-51 found its way back to the 401st and relentlessly attacked the German fighters in defense of the bombers for half an hour until he was completely out of ammunition. The one American fighter fought against 30-to-1 odds at a minimum, and shot down at least six of the attacking enemy as he beat them away. The 401st was led that day by Major Allison Brooks, who remarked about the lone Mustang flyer:
It looked like one American against the entire Luftwaffe. He was over us, across the formation and around it. For sheer determination and guts it was the greatest exhibition I have ever seen.That one American was James Howard. The Air Force concurred in the "greatest exhibition" assessment, promoted Howard to Lieutenant Colonel, and not long after, hung our nation's highest honor around his neck.
From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (G-L):
|James Howard receives the Medal of Honor from Lt. Gen. Carl Spaatz,|
Commander Strategic Air Forces, June 5, 1944.
Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army Air Corps
Place and date: Over Oschersleben, Germany, 11 January 1944 (Air Mission)
Entered service at: St. Louis, Mo.
G.O. No.: 45, 5 June 1944
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Oschersleben, Germany, on 11 January 1944. On that day Col. Howard was the leader of a group of P51 aircraft providing support for a heavy bomber formation on a long-range mission deep in enemy territory. As Col. Howard's group met the bombers in the target area the bomber force was attacked by numerous enemy fighters. Col. Howard, with his group, and at once engaged the enemy and himself destroyed a German ME. 110. As a result of this attack Col. Howard lost contact with his group, and at once returned to the level of the bomber formation. He then saw that the bombers were being heavily attacked by enemy airplanes and that no other friendly fighters were at hand. While Col. Howard could have waited to attempt to assemble his group before engaging the enemy, he chose instead to attack single-handed a formation of more than 30 German airplanes. With utter disregard for his own safety he immediately pressed home determined attacks for some 30 minutes, during which time he destroyed 3 enemy airplanes and probably destroyed and damaged others. Toward the end of this engagement 3 of his guns went out of action and his fuel supply was becoming dangerously low. Despite these handicaps and the almost insuperable odds against him, Col. Howard continued his aggressive action in an attempt to protect the bombers from the numerous fighters. His skill, courage, and intrepidity on this occasion set an example of heroism which will be an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces.
Howard remained in the service through the birth of the United States Air Force in 1947. He retired from active service as a Brigadier General in 1949 and remained in the Air Force Reserve while he pursued varying civilian business opportunities. He passed away at age 81 on March 18, 1995 in the veterans' hospital in Bay Pines, Florida. The Air Force laid him to rest with the full honors accorded a Medal of Honor recipient at Arlington National Cemetery.
The 356th Fighter Squadron is today inactive. The 354th Fighter Group is today known as the 354th Operations Group, the flying arm of the 354th Fighter Wing at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.