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Davis, Jr., Benjamin O.

Pilot
Enshrined 1994 1912-2002

Biography

Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. was born on December 18, 1912.  He entered West Point in 1932 where, in an attempt to make him resign, his fellow cadets adopted a code of silence in which they neither associated with him nor spoke with him.  Despite this treatment Davis graduated 35th in his class of 276, becoming the first black cadet in the 20th century to graduate from West Point.

In 1941, President Roosevelt directed the War Department to create an all-black flying unit, and Davis was ordered to attend pilot training at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama and then take command of the unit.  In March of 1942, he became the first black pilot to earn his wings.

Under his command, the 99th Pursuit Squadron performed admirably in North Africa.  In September 1943, Davis was transferred to the U.S. and personally stopped a recommendation, which called for the removal of black squadrons from combat duty.

Davis next led the 332nd Fighter Group into battle in Italy and inspired them in the same manner as the 99th.  His men continued to prove that performance in combat is not dependent on race.  In May 1944, he was promoted to full colonel and in September he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In 1949, the Air Force marked an end to legal discrimination in the Armed Forces.  In 1954, Davis was promoted to Brigadier General, the Air Force’s first black general officer.

One of his most demanding assignments was to create a headquarters in 1955 in Taiwan to defend against a Chinese Communist attack.  Later assignments included Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations, for the US Air Force in Europe and Chief of Staff of the US and UN Forces in Korea.

On January 22, 1970, Davis retired from the Air Force as a Lieutenant General and served in several important civilian aviation positions and sat on numerous boards and commissions.

Davis died July 7, 2002 and buried at Arlington National Cemetery.