Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Max James Biography

max250.jpg My commitment of service to our country has truly been a testament to the core values held at the Air Force Academy. Through hard work and adherence to those core values, I have enjoyed a modicum of success in both my military and business careers. I attribute these achievements to my attempting to be generous and committed to helping others, and I hope that I can somehow help to ensure that these core values taught at the Academy will be a focus for all future cadets.


As a proud graduate of the class of 1964, I had some success at the Academy, barely squeaking a place on the Superintendent's list 7 out of 8 semesters. As a Doolie from Fighting Fourth, the “jock tables” in Mitch's sure looked attractive, and so with an over inflated ego, I looked for an athletic team to join.

Having had some tennis success in the parks recreation program in the metropolis of Humboldt, Tennessee, I gave it a shot. But Mercer from Kentucky took me out in the first qualifying match. Having lettered in high school basketball, why not try that? Geez, where did those guys come from, e.g., Pavich and Hinman? I didn't make the first cut! How about fencing (no, not the kind we did on our little row crop farm in Tennessee)? How many guys would show up with experience for that? Coach Toth beat the hell out of me with that epee whacking across my mask and shoulders, plus I pulled a groin muscle. What self anointed “Romeo” wants that problem!

Running out of choices, I remembered that I had won the 4-H Club camp diving competitions. Ah Ha! The swimming team. Whew! Success! I finally made a collegiate team. Didn't go so well though. Knocked myself unconscious trying to learn a 2 ½ from the 3 meter and had to be rescued by the coach. Finally, I got a sinus infection from taking all the dives to the bottom of the pool. Flight surgeon said if I wanted to go to pilot training I needed to get out of the pool. So off of the “jock tables”!

Okay so back to intramurals. Played quarterback for the squadron but pretty sure we lost almost every game. But I finally found my sport: RUGBY!!! Will never forget Dave Sicks heading for the goal line with little old me the only obstacle left. Thinking he would juke left or right, I put all the weight on my toes, ready to move in either direction. Yep, he barreled straight ahead right over the top of me. Off to the Flight Surgeon I went. But things would get worse. In an All Star game, playing scrum half, I somehow ended up on the bottom of a pile with that mass of masculinity piling on top. Woke up in the hospital, where I spent three days with a brain concussion. When I headed back to the team, my flight surgeon designated my new role: “coach”.

One last shot at “jockdom”. My Dad was a military boxing champ, and had spent some time with me at the striking bag. I thought Coach Crews was a great instructor and I had been doing okay in the ring with several good matches. One day, Crews said to the class, “Pick a partner and go a few rounds”. Next thing I knew the only one left to match up with was Bill Skaer, who clearly was not in my 150 pound weight class, AND A LEFTY! After delivering a solid left to Bill's midsection, I opened up and drew back for the power punch with the right, unfortunately leaving myself wide open for Bill's left to deliver his power punch, which landed squarely on my nose. I literally flew through the ropes, and to this day I wear a “Breathe Right” adhesive nose band for my deviated septum so that I don't suffocate while trying to sleeping. To hell with it, I decided to let Jim Ingram have the title of undefeated wing champion.

But not all endeavors were total failures. I had the honor of being the editor of the “Talon”. That allowed me to become the VP of the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Press Association, attend some raucous conventions with feather merchant students from some real party universities. I loved selecting the “Squadron Sweethearts” for the centerfolds (actually it wasn't really folded). But the Commandant, General Strong, took exception to the jokes, many stolen from other college magazines (particularly Texas Aggies) and Dave Samuels' distorted sense of humor before he published them in the “DODO”. We had a distribution of about 5,000 magazines, and Strong decided he would take on the role of morality censor. I got a call, right after an edition of all 5,000 magazines showed up on the loading dock. Strong needed to see me. He selected three or four “unacceptable” jokes and informed me that this magazine would not be distributed. Obviously we couldn't reprint – no money to do so. Then an epiphany! So I called the Talon staff together, purchased a ton of black tape, and cut out the right sizes to paste over each moral compass rejected joke. Imagine cutting and pasting 5,000 magazines! Of course, every cadet room heated up the steamers and attempted to steam off the tape. Next edition of the “Talon”, we printed three black blotches on the joke pages, with the caption: “Let's see you steam these!”

Remember the Cadet Officers' Club, in the basement of the old Antlers? Someone in '63 selected me as the President of the Club, and I was given the privilege of providing the beer kegs for the Saturday night blasts, dealing with the hotel General Manager when we were too loud, too drunk, and swimming in the pool (with and without appropriate swimwear).

I spent the first semester of our last year as Group Ops Officer with Al McArtor as the Group Commander. Lots of great stories about that (but not here; wouldn't want to embarrass the Chairman of AirBus Americas)! Second semester, I was Squadron Commander for Fighting Fourth (at least for a while). Captain Mathews, the Marine Squadron AOC, and I did not often see eye-to-eye. One morning right after reveille formation, there was a loud bang at my door. There stood “Green Jeans the Marine”, asking me if I knew what was going on in my squadron. With improper respect, I replied that I did: “The men are performing the three S's”. Without a smile, he thundered “Follow me!” We found a Doolie, fully dressed in Class A's, standing in an alcove at attention with his M1, sweating like he had just finished a “Run to the Rock”. When Mathews asked him what he was doing, he replied that he was performing physical punishments for a third classman (whose name shall remain undisclosed). As you may recall, the reg's said no physical punishments one hour prior to a meal. STRIKE ONE!

When the Marine asked him what type of punishments, the Doolie replied that he had been doing rifle pushups. Remember that reg? Trembling triceps sometimes caused a few roll-overs, resulting in broken and distended knuckles and fingers. STRIKE TWO!

And lastly, Mathews asked him who had required these punishments. The reply was Cadet 3rd Class (name I shan't reveal, though I will never forget it). Remember that reg? All physical punishments had to be personally supervised by an upperclassman. Mathews then quietly and slowly opened the door to the 3rd classman's room. And there he was, sleeping soundly!!! STRIKE THREE! With a “SE” grin, the Marine smiled at me and said, “I suspect that you will be hearing about this later today”.

During first period class, the Commandant's Admin Asst., CWO Dent, interrupted the class I was in and asked if Cadet James was there. He asked if I could be excused to visit with the Commandant. Oh no, not again. First stop was with Lt. Colonel Ashmore, First Group AOC. “Damn it James, can't you get along with that Marine! He doesn't like the Air Force, doesn't want to be here, and is sure this is ruining his career. The Commandant is really angry. Go see him and then come back to my office.”

Ashmore understated the Commandant's ire. Next thing I knew, I was relieved of command, busted to Cadet First Class, had my saber taken and replaced with the M1, marched at the back of the Squadron, relocated out of the Squadron area, humiliated by McArtor's announcement of the demotion from the tower in Mitch's, and basically put under “arrest”. (Thanks to Vince Hurley for taking over the squadron. He probably should have had it in the first place.)

But that led to probably the most important lesson I learned in leadership at the Academy, and it has served me well in all of my military and business careers. Here is the story Lt. Col. Ashmore told me:

When he was in the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II, he was a Squadron Commander. Two new wet behind the ears lieutenants, fresh out of pilot training, were assigned to him. After one of their early missions, instead of immediately landing (preserving scarce fuel and maintenance supplies), they decided to practice a few aerial combat maneuvers. Ashmore called them on the carpet. A few missions later, they repeated their antics. Horribly, they fatally flew into each other, destroying two critically important P-47's, and of course two important warriors. Ashmore was recalled from the war zone to the Pentagon, never to experience aerial combat again. He said to me, “That is the principal reason that I have this silver “leaf” on my shoulder and not something better”. And then he gave me this leadership principle:


Later, he was able to reinstate all my “privileges” as a first classman on the Sup's list, since the Commandant couldn't find a reg to cover the issue. So my responsibilities for the rest of the second semester were to pass academics and take my privileges. And this great mentor also reinstated me to Cadet Lt. Colonel for June week, and put me back on First Group Staff. That allowed me to participate in all the June week activities, including receiving the “Eagle and Fledglings Award” at the Distinguished Cadet Graduates ceremony.

Before graduation, you will remember that we went to Washington to march in the Inaugural Parade. Mike Ryan, '65, invited me to visit at his home with his Dad, General Ryan, the then Air Force Chief of Staff. General Ryan asked me what my plans were after graduation. I told him I had elected to go into a new Air Force program to become a helicopter pilot. The number one commander of the US Air Force then said to me. “You have just ruined your entire Air Force career.” His language was a bit more colorful than that, and I thought “Well, no chance now to ever make it in my chosen professional career”. (Great stories to someday share about my good times with Mike, better known as General Mike Ryan (ret) '65, who became the Air Force Chief of Staff, just like his Dad)


Disregarding the good General's advice, I did go on to chopper school. First to solo in my class and first to bust a check ride. Great classmates there, including Fred Gregory who became an astronaut and an Academy Distinguished Graduate and Max Manning who transferred to the Israeli Air Force and gave it all for his spiritual beliefs, and others too many to mention who also accomplished great things.

After pilot training at Randolph and Stead, I was assigned to the astronaut recovery program at Patrick AFB. I flew with the astronauts on rescue recovery training, drank too much with them and Walter Conkrite at Shirley's Pillow Talk Lounge, watched McArtor cooling his toes while lollygagging on the beach standing alert from Homestead at Patrick, flew downrange for NASA and flew Chopper Gold for all NASA launches.

From there, I volunteered to be a Jolly Green rescue pilot in Vietnam. What a mission: “That Others May Live”! During my classified missions in Laos (there was no war in Laos, or so the Washington Administration repeatedly said), I flew over 200 combat missions, some with Air America and the CIA, and was knocked down twice, once by ground fire and the second time by the shock wave from a SAM. I was lucky to receive three Distinguished Flying Crosses and 8 Air Medals. But one of the most rewarding accomplishments was being responsible (with my great combat aircrew) for the extraction of 10 downed pilots, including one of our own classmates. I rewarded myself when I returned to the states by purchasing a beautiful black Jag XKE. Fortunately the base commander had a yellow one, which he occasionally raced against me around Sheppard, thus avoiding all speeding tickets (at least on base).


After my Air Force service, I chose Stanford's Graduate School for Business, earning an MBA. I then had the good fortune to work for an individual who, at the time, was the wealthiest man in the world. During that period, I had the responsibility to buy and sell real estate, both domestically and internationally, developing some semblance of business acumen. That came in handy when I had the chance to serve as Chairman of the Board of the Salt Lake International Center, a thousand acre industrial park development project. I also had the opportunity to serve as President of Miller Properties, a vertically integrated real estate development, management, investment and sales organization.

My next successful business venture (and there were many unsuccessful ones) was as Executive Vice-President of Days Inns of America, which was then the sixth largest hospitality lodging company in the world. I was able to build, own and operate 18 hotels in the western United States. Somehow, I managed to be selected by the Governor of California to serve on the California Tourism Board of Directors and was a member of the California Hotel Association Board of Directors.

Following my hotel career, I set out on my own and reentered the real estate industry, owning 7 ReMax territories in northern California (which almost broke me). During this time, I also became interested in nutritional supplementation, which eventually led to ventures in the specialty retail industry where I continue to serve on the Specialty Retail Advisory Committee. I also served as the Chairman of the American Business Association.

Today, I am blessed to own the American Kiosk Management as well as the North American Kiosk companies. These entities own and operate specialty retail businesses in over 700 locations in the United States and Canada, with gross sales approaching $200 million.

When asked about how my experience at the Academy contributed to my business successes, I have often said, “The overriding lesson I learned was:

You can delegate authority but you cannot delegate responsibility.

In addition to selecting the right products, surrounding yourself with the right people is key. Only associate with people of the highest character. Hire for character, train for skill.” To that end, I try to offer our employees many tools for growth. One of the most valuable of these is American Kiosk Management University, where employees learn leadership and sales skills. My wife, Linda, and I also instituted a scholarship program for employees to pursue their own areas of interest, no matter what the field.

I have been honored to receive the Al Kushner Breakthrough Innovation Award, and in 2010 was honored as the first inductee into the $25 billion Specialty Retail Industry's “Hall of Fame”.


I truly believe and have stated many times, “When you give, it comes back to you tenfold.” I hope my life has been an illustration of that philosophy. To that end, I have been fortunate to be able to create a legacy of philanthropic activities to include this list which the AOG published:

- Chairman and Founder of the Camp Soaring Eagle Foundation, which provides medically based camping experiences for chronically and seriously ill children at no charge to the families. James has personally donated over $12 million towards this effort.

- 2007 Boys and Girls Club Philanthropist of the Year for Northern Arizona.

- Founder of the Max James Family Foundation.

- Title Sponsor of the Liberty Bowl St. Jude Annual Golf Tournament.

- Member of St. Jude Children's Hospital's CEO Professional Advisory Board.

- Member of the Fight Night Club for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson's Research Center.

- Donated the funds to build the Chi Chi Rodriquez Youth Foundation driving range in Clearwater, Florida

- Created the Research and Scholarship Foundation for the Specialty Retail Industry and donated the initial $100K.

"Additionally, James's contributions in support of the Air Force Academy have been invaluable. He is a lifetime member of the USAFA AOG, the Sabre Society and:

- A Founding Director of the USAF Endowment Foundation.

- Co-Chairman of the Endowment's committee for the Center for Character and Leadership Development facility and selected as a judge to choose the architects and final design.

- Donated/committed over $4 million to the Academy's Center for Character and Leadership Development through the USAF Endowment Foundation."

Thank you AOG, for those kind words and for the selection as the Distinguished Graduate for 2010.


I hope I have a few more good years of finding ways to give back to these philanthropic activities. My principal goal is to grow and protect my personal assets so that I can: Continue the support of the Academy's Center for Character and Leadership facility and programs, and

Attempt to bless the unfortunate children, who suffer from chronic, serious and life threatening diseases with medically based camping experiences, while they are still with us on this planet.

Enjoy the camaraderie of my fellow '64 classmates (including especially the Aging Aviators) and other grads of the Academy.

Share the good times with my wife, my all inclusive family of 3 children, 6 grandchildren and my new great granddaughter. “ARRIBA FALCONES” and “VAYA CON DIOS” Max
[ My Photo Memories ]
[ Some Personal Photos ]
[ 2010 USAFA Distinguish Graduate Citation ]
[ SPREE Hall Of Fame ]
[ American Kiosk Management ]
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