Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Black History Month: Benjamin O. Davis Jr

Benjamin O. Davis Jr 

Pilot, Commander and Our First Black US Air Force General

Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King Jr., and Harriet Tubman may be the most often mentioned Black History heroes.  However, there are many more whose names most people might not recognize.  One of these heroes is Benjamin O. Davis Jr.

As the first African-American US Air Force General Benjamin O. Davis Jr is probably most well known as the commander of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen.  General Davis grew up fully aware of racial inequality through his father's struggles as one of the only two African-American combat officers in the army.  Due to his race, he was unable to advance.  Thus, young Davis vowed to change segregation and racial inequality and was in a big part responsible for many of the changes we see today.      

Even though graduating near the top of his class at West Point, he was rejected, minimalized, and not allowed to fly or to advance.  Impending war and politics opened a tiny window of opportunity.  For appearances, a black commander was needed for the Air Corps first black unit. As a West Point graduate, Davis was the perfect choice and began flight school in Tuskegee AAF.  

He and his men of the 99th Fighter Squadron fought bravely without the most modern planes available at the time and with few men for rotations.  Not only did they relentlessly fight the enemy, but were also at war with those who would shut their unit down as well.  Through a rousing testimony to a committee charged with determining their fate, Davis ensured not only would the 99th survive, but would also receive better planes.  With these better planes, they, now combined with the 332d, became escorts for Air Force bombers.  Along with their many incredible achievements, during their 200 escort missions they never lost a bomber to an enemy fighter.

In 1949, the achievements of Davis and the Tuskegee Airmen were pivotal in the argument of why integration would strengthen the Air Force.   In the many years that followed, Davis fought the bigotry in Alabama to attend the Air War College, graduated and began working at the Pentagon.  In many of his future positions, he supervised thousands of white men who dutifully followed him.  A crowning accomplishment was creating a defensive air force -- from scratch -- in Taipei, Taiwan to protect against an attack from Communist China.  Before he retired in 1970, he continued to make more advances and more stars.  Thus, Davis had achieved his mission to end segregation in the military. 

Benjamin O. Davis Jr., an aviation pioneer, is one of the most famous Tuskegee Airmen of World War II.


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