James Richard Lykens Jr. was born on October 9, 1922. He was one of four children. James was raised from the age of 10 by his Uncle, A. Victor Lykens, who lived in Caln, Pennsylvania James attended schools in Caln where he received the Legion award for his good work. He graduated from Coatesville High School in 1941. His yearbook description makes reference to "…looking forward to being an aviation mechanic.”
After graduation, James went to school in Williamsport, Pennsylvania for aviation mechanics. He then obtained employment at the Middletown Airport in Harrisburg.
James enlisted in the Army Air Corps on January 7, 1943. After basic training, he received advance training as radio operator/gunner on a B-24 Liberator bomber, in Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico and California. He was sent overseas to the Pacific Theater of operations in January, 1944.
James was assigned to the 372nd Bomber Squadron, of the 307th Bomb Group, Heavy. In a letter to his Uncle, James said he was stationed in the Admiralty Islands which are located in the Bismarck Sea just north of New Guinea.