hen he was a young man in Sand Point, Idaho, Dennis James’ father was a World War II pilot, home from the war. Young James was proud of his father, but the P-51 Mustang pilot had seen a lot of action during the war and began to drink alcohol to excess.
When he got drunk he became abusive, beating his wife and young James too. Finally in desperation and fearful of the safety of his mother and family, teenage Dennis James confronted his drunk father, threatened his life and kicked him out of his own house.
Years later his father thanked him and said he’d never meant young James or his mother any harm.
Working hard to support his family and pay for his schooling, James also became a party animal during those years in the early 1960s, also drinking and womanising. A member of the Catholic Church at the time, he took a comparative religion class. He visited every church and asked what the doctrine was and finally when he visited the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the LDS or Mormon Church, he gave them high marks.
When he joined the Mormon Church and was baptised in April, 1970, James’ Catholic family disowned him.
“I think the Mormon Church had more fullness of the gospel.”
By and by, however, after he started organising family reunions and doing the good behaviour, his family accepted him again.
He had known a young Mormon girl named Kandi for a long time and had a beautiful girlfriend named Bobbi. When a friend of James’ ended up with Bobbi, James ended up marrying Kandi on November 11, 1970. He’s glad he did.
The two just finished serving a mission in Cambodia last month and returned to their home in Alpine, Utah.
James graduated from University of Idaho with a bachelor of science in education before heading off to United States Marine Corps boot camp, coming out a Second Lieutenant. His speed record for making it through the obstacle course lasted until the 1980s. James worked hard to help other, weaker men through it. He was identified as having leadership potential.
Out of a class of 112, more than 60 wanted to be pilots, but there were only seven places for pilots.
“You’re graded by your peers and you rate everybody else,” he said. James got into the aviation program because the other marines always gave him high ratings.
James said the teachings of the LDS Church helped him through his career in the US Marines, teaching men to be good husbands and good fathers.
“I learned how to treat people and I used that to treat other men and it was easy to help the weaker guys,” he said.
Even though he was away a great deal of time during his US Marine career, eventually rising to the rank of Colonel, he’s happy that for the assistance the LDS Church gave to keep the family strong.
“We sat down and made a list and talked about how we wanted to raise our kids with scriptures and prayers and a meal together every day and a family event once a week,” he said. “We stuck to it and if we had problems we would discuss them,” he said.
His eldest son Josh was left in charge of the family. Today, Josh James is the founder of several computer services companies and has a personal fortune in excess of $100 million.
“Josh was a good older brother, and I told him when I’m leaving, you’re in charge, you take care of the family. He still does that today. He’s taking all of us down the Cabo San Lucas for his 40th birthday. He’s very generous with his success,” James said.
Josh James now has six daughters of his own.
Dennis James credits the teachings of the LDS Church and the discipline of the US Marine Corps to his family’s success.
“You teach discipline and obedience and people want to have rules. You teach them to make their own choices. They always get a choice, but there are always rules.”
In addition to the eldest son Josh, James and his wife Kandi also have a daughter named Bobbi, and sons named Cubby, Adam, Zack and Drew, all of whom are successful in various businesses.
James and his wife Kandi have a total of 17 grandchildren, four of whom they only got to see for the first time when they returned from their mission in Cambodia.
After many years as a jet pilot in the US Marine Corps, James went into the reserves and started flying commercially for Continental Airlines. He was re-called to service during the Gulf War. He flew for 30 years with Continental Airlines.
A crash in a fighter jet in 1972 following ejection from an inverted spin broke his back and neck and almost killed him. He’s had back pain ever since. When he left Cambodia a few weeks ago, he was on his way to having an operation. Word from his wife in Utah indicates he is recovering well.
Reflecting on his experience in Cambodia, James said he loved it here and feels very optimistic about the Cambodian people.
“This mission has been unbelievable,” he said before he left last month. “To teach people in Cambodia that there’s hope they can be anything they want to become,” he said. During their stay in Cambodia over the last couple of years, both James and his wife, in their roles as LDS elders in charge of public relations, grew to love Cambodia and the Cambodian people.
James says those who ask for life’s blessings and deserve them will get them.
“The key to that is you’re happy on the way; to have happiness and joy with your family.”
James sees the potential in people and treats them according to their highest potential.
“If you treat people like that and if you trust them and believe in them; they have to know that you really believe that they can become successful.”
James said Cambodians are very sweet, good people and full of potential.
“I want to see people learn more, be better husbands, wives and families,” he said. “If families are better, Cambodia will be so much better. I love the Cambodian people and I’ll be back.”