James William Wold was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on April 18, 1932 to Peter and Hulda Christine (nee Olson) Wold. Peter, a native of Lillehammer, Norway, immigrated to the United States in the summer of 1923 and farmed briefly in North Dakota before permanently relocating his family to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hulda Christine, an American by birth, was originally from Colfax, Wisconsin. As a teenager, Wold attended Minneapolis South High School for two years before transferring to Hillcrest Academy in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. While studying at Hillcrest Academy, he became acquainted with Joan (JoAnne) Abigael Norheim, a fellow student who would later become his wife. Following graduation from Hillcrest Academy in 1949, he attended Augsburg College for one academic year.
In 1951, Wold enlisted in the United States Air Force wherein he attended the Russian Language Program at Syracuse University. After the language studies were completed, in August of 1952, Wold entered the Aviation Cadet Program. He received his aeronautical instruction through the 3505th Pilot Training Wing at Greenville Air Force Base located in Mississippi. On September 16, 1953, Wold received his commission with the rank of Second Lieutenant and the rating of Pilot. Less than a week after being commissioned, Wold married JoAnne in Pasadena, California.
As a result of being newly commissioned, Wold was briefly stationed at Mather Air Force Base in California, followed by another short assignment at Shaw Air Force Base located in South Carolina, where he flew the RB-45C reconnaissance aircraft. Once Wold became familiar with the new aircraft, he relocated to RAF Sculthorpe in the United Kingdom, where he flew missions with the 19th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron from May 1954 to June 1956. Following the completion of this placement, the Air Force assigned Wold to study mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Wold completed his bachelor's degree in two years, graduating in August 1958, whereupon he entered service with the 9th Bombardment Wing at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho where he remained until 1961.
Thereafter, Wold was assigned to March Air Force Base in California to serve on staff, Headquarters, 15th Air Force. During Wold's various assignments worldwide, his four children were born: daughter Christine Annette (at Norton Air Force Base, California), son Kevin Daniel (in the United Kingdom), daughter Lisa Karen (while studying at the University of Michigan), and daughter Holly Susan (at Mountain Home Air Force Base). Following completion of his headquarters assignment in May of 1964, Wold was once again assigned to study engineering. Wold's second stint in the engineering field occurred while studying at the Air Force Institute of Technology located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio where he would complete his Master of Science degree in March, 1966. The Air Force immediately utilized Wold's technical background by posting him to the Test Requirements Branch and Acquisition Test Branch, Directorate of Operations, United States Air Force Headquarters, where he remained for three years.
In July 1969, Wold was deployed to South Vietnam, where he served as operations officer for the 6th Special Operation Squadron operating out of Pleiku. He then went on to command units at Pleiku and Da Nang air bases. While in Vietnam, Wold personally flew 241 combat missions in the A-1H attack bomber, many of them providing direct air support to American ground forces engaged in close-quarters combat with enemy guerillas. For his service in Southeast Asia, Wold received the Bronze Star, six Distinguished Flying Crosses, and sixteen Air Medals.
During the summer of 1970 and after returning from Vietnam, Wold he served one year as the chief of the Test Operations Branch and the Test Support Division at Strategic Air Command Headquarters, Offutt Air Force Base located in Nebraska. Thereafter, Wold worked in the Pentagon where he was assigned to the Air Force's Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel handling colonel assignments, earning a Legion of Merit in the process. In August of 1974, Wold attended the Defense Language Institute and the Defense Intelligence School at Anacostia Annex in Washington, D.C. in preparation for an assignment as the Defense and Air Attaché to the Soviet Union. Upon completion of Russian language training, in the summer of 1975, Wold was stationed at the United States Embassy in Moscow. After serving two years in the Soviet Union, Wold returned to the United States and settled on a 420 acre farm near Luverne, North Dakota. Wold retired from the Air Force on August 31, 1977 at the Grand Forks Air Force Base.
Shortly after retiring from the United States Air Force, Wold enrolled in courses at the University of North Dakota School of Law eventually graduating in the spring of 1981. Wold established a law practice in Luverne, North Dakota eventually securing the appointment as Griggs County State’s Attorney.
In 1994, Wold was appointed as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/MIA Affairs, acting as the Director of the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (hereinafter DPMO). The main function of the DPMO is to ensure that the United States government achieves the fullest possible accounting for POW/MIA United States servicemen. In this capacity, Wold traveled widely, meeting frequently with the families of missing service members, and coordinating investigation and remains-recovery efforts with foreign governments in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
While serving as the Director of the DPMO, Wold was embroiled in the controversy over the POW/MIA issue, with many members of the public (particularly family members of the missing and numerous United States Senators and Congressmen) alleging that the government was not doing enough to repatriate lost Americans as well as claiming that there existed evidence of live Americans still being held prisoner in Southeast Asia.
After serving three years as the Director of the DPMO, Wold tendered his letter of resignation to President Bill Clinton on June 26, 1997. Following his resignation from the DPMO, Wold returned home to Luverne, North Dakota, where he died on February 11, 2003.
Series 1: Personal History and Military Career
Series 2: Legal Career
Series 3: Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office
Series 4: POW/MIA Organizations
Series 5: Legislative Documents and Materials
Series 6: United States Russian Joint Commission
Series 7: Correspondence
Series 8: POW/MIA Reports and Media Documents
Series 9: Oversized Materials
Series 10: Photographs
Series 11: Artifacts