Benjamin Davis Jr.

Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr. (Dec. 18, 1912 - July 4, 2002) was an Air Force general and commander of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen.

After attending the University of Chicago, he was appointed to attend West Point. At West Point, he never had a roommate and was seldom talked to by his fellow cadets.

The “silent treatment” had the opposite effect and made Davis even more determined to succeed. He did reach his goal of graduating in 1936 with a class standing of 35th in a class of 278.

His first military assignment was with the segregated 24th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, Georgia. He later taught military tactics at Tuskegee Institute. It was the Army’s way to avoid having a black officer in command of white soldiers.

Captain Davis was next assigned to the first training class at Tuskegee Army Air Field and in March 1942 earned his wings as one of five black officers to complete the course. In July 1942, having been promoted to lieutenant colonel, he was named commander of the first black air unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron.

There was an attempt by a few high-ranking military officers to not allow the black fighter pilots to fly combat missions. However, Davis held a news conference at the Pentagon to defend his men and then presented his case to a War Department committee studying the use of black servicemen.

Army chief of staff General George Marshall ordered an inquiry, and the result was that the fighter pilots trained at Tuskegee were allowed to fight in Europe.

What had influenced General Marshall was that the black airmen had been tested in combat that resulted in the downing of 12 German planes in two days while protecting the Anzio beachhead.

The 99th had added planes and pilots and was now called the 332d Fighter Group. Soon after arriving in Italy, the 332d had all of their planes tails painted a bright red.

In July 1948, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 ordering the racial integration of the armed forces. The Air Force was the first of the services to integrate fully.

Davis served at the Pentagon and in overseas posts over the next two decades. He flew combat assignments in Korea prior to retirement on February 1, 1970.

He died on July 4, 2002, at the age of 89 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.


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