Benjamin O. Davis’s Thanksgiving Turkey in Taipei

Posted on Mon, November 13, 2017

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, many members of the United States military are stationed overseas, far from home. In November 1956, Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. and his wife Agatha sat down to a Thanksgiving turkey in Taipei, Taiwan, provided by an unusual source—the Vice President of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

1956 Thank You Letter from Benjamin O. Davis

A November, 26 1956, letter from Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Commander, US Air Force Air Task Force 13 (Provisional), Taipei, Taiwan to Chen Cheng, Vice President of the Republic of China (Taiwan), thanking him for the gift of a turkey for the Davis' Thanksgiving dinner.

Davis’s entire career was groundbreaking. He was the son of Army general Benjamin O. Davis Sr., the first black American to rise to the rank of general in the United States armed forces, and in 1936  Davis Jr. was just the fourth black American to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point. (Davis Jr. preferred to use the term "black" or "black American" as opposed to "African American" when referring to himself.) He originally asked for a commission to the Army Air Corps, but they did not accept blacks at the time. After serving in the infantry for several years, in 1942 Davis was posted to the newly-established Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama and graduated in the first class of pilot training—the first class of what would later be known as the Tuskegee Airmen. He was selected to lead the new 99th Pursuit Squadron, the Army Air Corps' first all-black air unit, and later the 332d Fighter Group in Europe during World War II.

Benjamin O. Davis Sr. pins Distinguished Flying Cross on Davis Jr.

Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Sr. pins the Distinguished Flying Cross on his son, Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., Italy, May 29, 1944.

President Harry S. Truman ordered the desegregation of the military in 1948 and by 1956, Davis had risen to the rank of Brigadier General. He was stationed in Taiwan as the Commander responsible for establishing Air Task Force 13 (Provisional), as well as serving as the Vice Commander, Thirteenth Air Force, and Director of Operations and Training, Far East Air Force (FEAF). His wife, Agatha, served an active role on the base as a member of the Taipei Air Force Officers' Wives' Club, Taipei International Women's Club, and the Women's Service Committee to Allied Personnel (just to name a few). 

Benjamin and Agatha Davis at a Party

Agatha Davis (left) and Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. (second from left) at a Taipei Air Force Officers’ Wives Club event; circa 1955-1956.

General Davis took pride in his ability to maintain good relationships between American military forces and the local military and civil authorities.  As the Commander and his wife, the Davis's frequently received invitations to social events. They often dined with General and Mrs. Wang Shu Ming, their counterparts in the Republic of China Air Force. Agatha maintained a scrapbook of dinner invitations from American and Taiwanese dignitaries, including Vice President and Madame Cheng Chang and President and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek.  

  • Meet and Greet with Chen Cheng

    Agatha Davis (far left) looks on as Mrs. Wang Shu Ming and Gen. Wang Shu Ming, Commander in Chief of the Republic of China Air Force (ROC, Taiwan), greet Chen Cheng, Vice President of the Republic of China (right); 1956.

  • Text of Invitation from Chen Cheng to Ben Davis in Chinese and English

    Chinese-language (left) and English translation (top) of Invitation from Vice President of The Republic of China (Taiwan) & Madame Chen Chang to Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. and wife Agatha for dinner on December 4, 1955.

  • Agatha Davis watches Chiang Kai-Shek shake a woman's hand

    Chiang Kai-Shek (right foreground), President of The Republic of China, greets an unidentified woman as Agatha Davis (left background) looks on.

  • Invitation from Chiang Kai-Shek

    English translation (top) of Invitation from the President of The Republic of China and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek to Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. and wife Agatha for dinner on May 1, 1956.

  • Ben Davis and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek at a party table

    Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. (left) and Madame Chiang (Soong Mei-Ling, wife of Chiang Kai-Shek) inspecting a holiday dinner table, December 22, 1955.

In May 1957, Benjamin Davis was reassigned as the Chief of Staff to the Twelfth Air Force, headquartered in Ramstein, Germany. He and Agatha stayed in contact with many of their friends from Taiwan. They kept good memories from their travels abroad, including their unusual Thanksgiving turkey in Taipei.