James Howell was born on 17 December 1920 in Fairfax, Alabama. He was a college student when he was inducted into the US Army on 9 November 1942. He entered the service at Fort McClellan, Alabama and trained at Loredo, Texas, Buckley Field, Colorado, and Fort Meyers, Florida to be an Army Air Corps aerial gunner. By September 1943, James Howell was a Staff Sergeant in the 615th Bombardment Squadron in the 401st Bombardment Group, Army Air Force. Staff Sergeant Howell was serving as a tail gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortess flying missions over Nazi Germany. Firing from his tail gunner position, Staff Sergeant Howell demonstrated great skill and courage in warding off many enemy attacks against his aircraft and others in the squadron. The courage, coolness and skill displayed by Staff Sergeant Howell earned him the nations highest valor award for heroism while participating in an aerial flight against enemy forces. Staff Sergeant James Howell was honorably discharged from the Army Air Corps on 9 October 1945 at Maxwell Field, Alabama.