James H. Ryan was born in Petersberg, Virginia, in 1931. He was raised in both Petersberg and Colonial Heights nearby. When he was just 16 years old, he went to Tokyo, Japan, to be with his father who was stationed there. He remained there for 1 year.
James then joined the Air Force and rose to the rank of Sergeant. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, he volunteered for a secret mission in North Korea. After that mission, he joined an Army unit attached to the Air Force. Interestingly enough, James was the only white man out of the 900 troops in that unit. His presence was what changed its status to an integrated unit.
After that, James was appointed to West Point. He first attended the Preparatory School for one year, before continuing to the main academy. He spent 4 years at West Point, and was enlisted in the Army Infantry. James continued his education at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his Master’s degree. He then proceeded to teach English at West Point.
After 3 years teaching at West Point, James was sent to back to Korea as Major in the 8th Army Infantry. He spent 13 months in Korea, and was then given the option to volunteer in Vietnam. James opted for the 1st Air Cavalry Division there. After a few months, though, he was commissioned to a separate task force and made the executive officer of the central unit of this task force. This task force went on to receive the Presidential Unit Citation.
His tour in Vietnam was completed after 1 year, and James went back to the United States. He went on to work at the Pentagon, until he finally retired in 1972.