ACG Salute to Black History Month: Lt. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.
Lieutenant General Benjamin O. Davis Jr.
18 Dec 1912 ? 4 July 2002
Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was born in Washington, D.C., and marked his name into the big book of history very early in life. His father, Benjamin O. Davis Sr., was the first African-American to reach the rank of U.S. General.
Davis first attended the University of Chicago before his Army enlistment and enrollment at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1932. At the time of his graduation from West Point in 1936, he and his father were the only two African-American line officers in the U.S. Army.
Davis’ officer commission was with the infantry, but fortune had other plans for him. He was one of the original twelve cadets to enter the first flight-training program for African-Americans at Tuskegee, Alabama, in July 1941.
He became the first African-American officer to fly solo in an Army Air Corps aircraft, which earned him his wings in March 1942.
Davis was soon promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and given command of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, made up of the graduates from the Tuskegee course. The squadron entered into World War Two in June 1943, and was sent to the Mediterranean Theater.
Four short months later, Davis was sent back to the U.S. to take command of the 332 nd Fighter Group. In January 1944, the group was deployed to Italy.
In June 1944, Davis and his Thunderbolt fighters were escorting a sortie of B-24′s to their Munich, Germany targets. As they approached the targets, close to 100 German Me-109′s attacked. In the ensuing dogfight, Davis’ squadron of about 39 knocked out five German fighters and wounded another. Davis was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission.
Davis’ 332nd then lead the first Italian-based fighter group to ever escort bombers on their run to Berlin. The flight path stretched some 1,600 miles. About 25 German Me-262′s were defending the Berlin sky, but Davis and his group downed three before end of mission.
While Davis was in command of the 332nd , they lost 66 pilots and their aircraft. However, they shot down 111 enemy planes, annihilated 150 enemy planes on the ground, and flew slightly more than 15,000 sorties. More importantly, the 332nd never lost an escorted friendly bomber to enemy aircraft. Davis is credited with flying over 60 combat missions himself.
After the war ended, Davis shuffled around the Army, holding several command positions. In 1948, he assisted the Air Force in its’ desegregation. In 1950, he graduated from the Air Force War College. It wasn’t until 1953 that Davis again took to combat in the sky, this time in an F-86 in Korea, where he was commander of the 51 st Fighter-Interceptor Wing.
Davis was promoted to Brigadier General in 1954, and became the first African-American in U.S. Air Force history to earn the star. In 1959 he became the first African-American Air Force Major General, and in 1965 he was promoted to Lieutenant General. Davis retired from the Air Force in 1970.
Soon after, Davis was appointed to the U.S. Department of Transportation as the Director of Civil Aviation Security. During his term, he was instrumental in drafting a plan of action that ended the slew of terrorist aircraft hijackings in the early 1970′s. In 1971, Davis became the Assistant Secretary of Transportation.
Davis was awarded his fourth star on 9 December 1998, by which time he had also received the Silver Star and two Distinguished Service Medals. Davis also found time to complete an autobiography, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. American . In 2002, Davis was admitted to Walter Reed Military Army Medical Center, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Davis took his final flight on 4 July of that year, dying at the age of 89.