Born in Marion, Virginia, General James Hackler grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1943. He was then assigned to the European Theater of Operations where he served as pilot, squadron commander and group operations officer in England, France and Germany. In September 1956, Colonel Hackler was assigned to Myrtle Beach Air Force Base where he served as Director of operations for the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing. In this position, he was instrumental in the development of a worldwide deployment capability as part of Tactical Air Command's Composite Air Strike Force. The CASF was a mobile rapid deployment strike force of fighter-bomber aircraft with both conventional and nuclear capability. Subsequent assignments included the National War College and service in the Directorate of Operational Requirements and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. A command pilot with more than 5,300 flying hours, General Hackler was checked out in more than 45 types of aircraft. His numerous decorations include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster, Air Medal with 20 oak leaf clusters, and the French Croix de Guerre with Silver Gilt Star.