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Lt. Gen. James E. Light Jr., USAF, Retired

James E. Light Jr.


Lt. Gen. James E. Light Jr. was born in 1927 and raised in Lansing, Michigan. In December, 1945 he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served until 1947 as a control tower operator. He entered the aviation cadet program, completed basic and advanced pilot training, and was assigned as a basic flying instructor at Randolph Air Force Base.

After serving as a flight commander in basic pilot training programs, Light was assigned as flight commander at Randolph AFB in the T-38 program which established the curriculum and graduated the first T-38 class in 1962. In June, 1963, he made the first T-38 trans-Atlantic crossing and flew in the Paris Air Show.

In June, 1964, he became assistant operations officer for the 417th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Ramstein AFB in Germany flying F-100s.

After F-105 operational training at Nellis AFB in Nevada, Light was assigned as squadron operations officer, 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Takhli Royal Thai AFB in Thailand in August 1967. He then served as chief Combat Analysis Branch, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing. During this tour of duty, Light flew 100 combat missions.

After assigned duty at Headquarters, U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C., Light returned to Thailand in September, 1970 as commander, 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Udorn Royal Thai AFB, flying F-4s.

Upon fulfilling progressively more responsible appointments in the United States, Light became commander, 28th Bombardment Wing at Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota in April, 1974. Subsequent posts included deputy chief of staff for logistics, Strategic Air Command, and Commander, Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker AFB, one of the world's largest aircraft and jet engine overhaul facilities. In September, 1983, he was promoted to lieutenant general and appointed commander, 15th Air Force at March AFB in California. Light retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1988.

Light has flown more than 11,000 hours in more than 15 aircraft types, as well as accumulating 500 combat hours during 220 combat missions. He has been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with two oak leaf clusters, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with six oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal and Air Medal with 18 oak leaf clusters.

He passed away June 6, 2012.

Lt. Gen. James E. Light Jr. was enshrined into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on May 21, 2011.

Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program