James Davidson Adam was born in Notley, New Jersey, on 23 March 1912, son of John Niel and Anna Louise (Clarkson) Adam. He attended Rutgers Preparatory School and West Chester High School, and was graduated from Augusta Military Academy, Fort Defiance, Virginia, in 1930. For two years he attended the University of Delaware, at Newark, and after his graduation from Curtiss Wright School of Aviation, Baltimore, Maryland in 1933, he was employed until November 1935 by Schramm, Inc., in West Chester.
He was appointed Aviation Cadet at the Navy Yard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 3 December 1935, and completed flight training and was designated Naval Aviator on 3 November 1936. He was commissioned Ensign in the US Naval Reserve on 1 March 1937, and was promoted to Lieutenant (jg) on 1 March 1940. Relieved of active duty on 2 February 1940, he was employed by Braniff Airways, Dallas, Texas, during the remainder of 1940, and on 26 February 1941 was transferred from the Naval Reserve to the US Navy. He subsequently attained the rank of Commander in June 1949, to date from 10 July 1945.
While a pilot in the US Naval Reserve, he served from January 1937 to October 1939 in the Alaska-Seattle area, attached to Patrol Squadrons 17 and 42, assisting in aerial and ground surveys for potential air bases. During the next four months he served as an instructor in patrol seaplanes, at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, and after working with Braniff Airways in Dallas from February through December 1940, returned to Pensacola. There he was a flight instructor, Squadron VN4D8, from 1 February 1941 until 10 June 1942, and during that period had instruction at the Naval School of Photography.
He next reported to the Supervisor of Shipbuilding, San Francisco, California, and from June to November 1942 assisted in fitting out USS Chandeleur. From her commissioning on 19 November 1942 until March 1943, he served as Air Officer and Photo and Motion Picture Officer. For a year thereafter he was attached to Headquarters Squadron, Fleet Air Wing 14, as an aviator, with additional duty until April 1944 as Officer in Charge, Test and Acceptance Unit, and further additional duty from April to June 1944 as Prospective Commanding Officer of Rescue Squadron ONE (VH-1). He subsequently served as Commanding Officer of Rescue Squadron ONE, Group ONE, Fleet Air Wing TWO, in the Central Pacific forward area, and from 6 December 1944 until he was detached on 28 April 1945, he also served as Commanding Officer, Marianas Air-Sea Rescue Unit.
He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, with Combat "V," for "meritorious service as Commanding Officer of Rescue Squadron ONE and Commander of the Marianas Sub-Area, Air-Sea Rescue Unit, during operations against enemy Japanese forces in the Central Pacific War Area from 10 June 1944 to 28 April 1945..."
In June 1945 he assumed command of Headquarters Squadron 14-1, of Fleet Air Wing FOURTEEN, and remained in command until May 1916. He was a student at the General Line School, Newport, Rhode Island, during the period 1 July 1946 to 29 May 1947, and on 10 July of that year he joined USS Saipan (CVL 4 ), operating with Operations Development Force, and later as a unit of Carrier Division 14. In that carrier he served as Navigator, and as Education and Training Officer, Deck Officer and Legal Officer.
Detached from the Saipan in August 1948, he reported in September to the Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas, where he served first as Operations Officer, later as Acting Executive Officer. While there he had additional duty as Navy Member of the Fourth Regional Sub-Committee, Joint Air Coordinating Committee, on the staff of Commander Naval Air Training Command. In July and August 1950 he assisted in the reactivation of USS Cape Esperance (TCVE 88), and from her commissioning, 5 August 1950 until 1 February 1952, served as her Executive Officer. During that period the Cape Esperance operated under Commander Military Sea Transportation Service, Pacific, transporting planes, cargo and personnel to the Far Eastern Area.
On 5 March 1952 he reported to the Fleet Training Group, San Diego, California, where he served for two years as Operations Training Officer, Group Aviation Officer, Carrier Training Officer and Chief Observer. Since 25 March 1954 he had been Executive Officer of the Naval Air Station, Hutchinson, Kansas, where for a month in 1954 he served as Acting Commanding Officer.
In addition to the Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V," Commander Adam has the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; the American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; the World War II Victory Medal; the National Defense Service Medal; Korean Service Medal; and the United Nations Service Medal.