James was born Sept. 28, 1940, in Portsmouth, Va., the son of Leslie L. and Lucille L. (Zeltman) James.
He grew up and attended various schools throughout the United States as a U.S. Navy "brat," graduating from New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1958. James joined the Marine Corps following high school and later joined the U.S. Army in 1965. He was a hero in the Vietnam War and his actions saved many fellow soldiers in combat. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery during Operation Attleboro.
As a result of his gallantry, a street was named for him in South Vietnam. He was the only living soldier from that battle to receive the honor. His medals include the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. He was also selected to introduce Bob Hope during a USO show at the home of the "Big Red One" in Vietnam on Christmas Day 1966.
In May 1970, James married Florence Roxanna D'Andrea of Riverside, Conn.; they later divorced in April 1980. After moving to Greenwich, he earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., and served in law enforcement for the Greenwich Police Department for 14 years until 1982.
After a short break in service he re-enlisted as an Army Ranger right before the age cutoff. He completed airborne school and later became a counterintelligence agent. He retired after 20 years of active military duty and six years of reserve duty in 1995. Following retirement he moved to Pittsburg, Kan.
James always held membership with the New Utrecht Dutch Reformed Church of Brooklyn. He was also a lifetime member of the NRA, the Association of Retired Police Officers, the First Infantry Division and the 28th Division, and was known to be passionate about animals with his support of the ASPCA. He enjoyed playing softball, hunting, fishing, poker with fellow veterans, and attending Legion of Valor reunions.
Survivors include his children Leslie A. Gavin and husband Kerry of Stamford, and Elizabeth K. Holcomb and husband Matthew of Fairfield; brother John James and wife Candy of Pittsburg, Kan.; grandchildren Quinn and Dylan Gavin and Mason and Riley Holcomb; niece and nephew Kali Christiansen and husband Drew of Frontenac, Kan., and Ben James and wife Jessica of Pittsburg, Kan.; great-niece and great-nephews Waylon, Livia, and Jackson; and his dog "Joe."
James was preceded in death by his parents and his beloved dog "Cracker."
Per his wishes, he will be laid to rest at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., at a later date where military honors will be conducted. To view a complete list of his military achievements, click here.
Donations may be made in lieu of flowers to Peterson Outdoors Ministries Lodge of Hope, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, or the ASPCA. Condolences may be left at www.bathnaylor.com. Arrangements and services are under the direction of Bath-Naylor Funeral Home of Pittsburg, Kan.
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