Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. after receiving his fourth star from President Bill Clinton, December 8, 1998.
||Biographical Passage about Benjamin O. Davis
The privileges of being an American belong to those brave enough
to fight for them.
O. Davis Jr.
In 1936 Benjamin O. Davis Jr. became the first
black student to graduate from West Point in the 20th century. He
graduated 35th in a class of 276 students. While at West Point, he
was officially silenced by his classmates: no one spoke
to him for four years except in the line of duty. Davis remembers,
When we traveled to football games on buses or trains, I had
a seat to myself.
I lived alone in whatever quarters were provided.
Except for tutoring some underclassmen...I had no conversations with
Cadets use silencing to punish a classmate who
is guilty of wrongdoing. Benjamin Davis was guilty of nothing but
being black. It was designed to make me buckle, but I refused
to buckle. They didnt understand that I was going to stay there,
and I was going to graduate. I was not missing anything by not associating
with them. They were missing a great deal by not knowing me.
When Davis graduated he applied for pilot training
but was turned down because there were no black units in the Army
Air Corps to which he could be assigned. While he was serving in the
infantry in 1940, this policy was reconsidered, and Davis was sent
to Tuskegee for pilot training. Because of the war and his ability,
he was quickly promoted to lieutenant colonel, and he commanded the
99th Fighter Squadron in combat. After one year with this all-black
unit in Italy, Davis was promoted to colonel and asked to lead the
322nd Fighter Group. Under Daviss superb leadership, the Tuskegee
Airmen earned the highest reputation, among both Allied and enemy
pilots, for their achievements as fighter escort pilots. While under
the protection of Daviss fighter escort unit, not one bomber
was ever lost to the enemy.
In 1948 President Trumans Executive Order 9981 ended segregation
in the services, and Benjamin O. Davis Jr. continued his life of accomplishments.
In 1954 Davis became the first black general in the U.S. Air Force.
He was the first black man to command an Army air base and the first
to become a lieutenant general. Following duty in Korea, General Davis
was assigned as chief of staff for the United Nations Command and
the U.S. forces in Korea. In 1967 he assumed command of the 13th Air
Force. General Davis retired in 1970. In 1975 President Ford appointed
him assistant secretary of transportation. In 1998 President Clinton
advanced him to the rank of four-star general.
The Tuskegee Airmen who served under Davis remember
him as stern but inspiring. One said that Davis was the most
positive commander I ever had. He stressed the awful price of failure.
Another said, Davis was respected by most and hated by some,
but it was because of the discipline he exacted that we were able
to make the record we did.