James Wagner enlisted in the Navy on 19 December, 1940, and was serving as a storekeeper third class on the USS Beaver, a submarine tender, at Casablanca in early 1943, when he received orders to return to the United States to train as a Navy pilot.
First he went to pre-flight school at Louisiana State college for three months and on 8 July, 1943, entered the civil aeronautics administration and war training school at Natchitoches, La. He was successively at Athens, Ga., Dailas, Texas, and Pensacola, Fla. At Pensacola he received his wings on 7 November, 1944. He was afterward stationed at Deland, Fla., and Groose Isle, Mich. He was assigned to the new aircraft carrier, the USS Franklin D. Rossevelt at the time of his death.