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James D. Latham

Born: June 26, 1946, Sedalia, Missouri. Married: Sue Beach.

James D. Latham was born in Sedalia, Missouri, on June 26, 1946, to Dr. Raymond and Arline Latham. The family relocated to Prairie Village, Kansas, where his sister Janice and brother Dennet were born. He attended Shawnee Mission East High School and competed on the swim team. He attended Kansas State University where he was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity; lettered on the K-State swim team for four years; and served as president of the University Intra-Fraternity Council. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1969 and a commission as second lieutenant in the United States Air Force through K-State’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program.

Latham married Sue Beach, from Pierceville, Kansas. They have three daughters.

He entered Air Force Pilot Training at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma, in March 1969.As a command pilot, Latham was involved with tactical fighter aircraft operations during most of his career in the air force. He flew two combat tours during the Vietnam War in the OV-10 and F-4; commanded an F-16 squadron; two fighter wings; and the composite wing in Saudi Arabia responsible for enforcing the no-fly zone over Southern Iraq. He flew as Right Wingman for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron in 1979-1980 in the T-38 aircraft and was commander and leader of the team in 1982-1983 when they transitioned to the F-16. Latham’s last assignment in the air force was as the assistant deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for International Affairs. He was responsible for formulating and integrating U.S. Air Force policy with regards to politico-military affairs, security assistance, technology and information disclosure issues and attaché affairs in support of U.S. government objectives.

He is a graduate of the National War College and the USAF Fighter Weapons School. His notable staff assignments include serving as commandant of U.S. Air Force Squadron Officers School and commandant of the U.S. Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corp. He is a recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal; two awards of the Silver Star; five awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross; two awards of the Bronze Star; 18 awards of the Air Medal; and two awards of the Purple Heart. He is the recipient of the Air Force Association David C. Shilling Award for outstanding accomplishment in the field of flight.

While flying the F-4 on his 378th combat mission he was shot down over North Vietnam in 1972 and captured spending six months as a prisoner of war being released in 1973 after the peace agreement was signed. He retired from active duty in 1997.

After completing a 28-year career in the U.S. Air Force, Latham joined He joined Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1998. There he was director of international business development, responsible for developing the market for company products in Europe. He retired from the company in 2014.

He was named 2016 Distinquished Kansan of the Year by the Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas.

Entry: Latham, James D.

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2017

Date Modified: February 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.