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Class Notes

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Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.

1995 Distinguished Graduate Award

General Davis attended Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and the University of Chicago before being appointed to West Point in 1932.  He graduated in 1936 and was commissioned in the Infantry. Benjamin Davis had always wanted to fly, but the Army Air Corps was not open to black Americans in 1936. After a year of service with the 24th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, he attended the Infantry School and was then assigned as Professor of Military Science and Tactics at the University of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

In February of 1941 he was appointed Aide to the Commanding General, 4th Cavalry Brigade at Fort Riley, Kansas.  With war imminent, the Roosevelt administration reversed the policy of excluding blacks from flight training.  Thus, in April 1941, General Davis was transferred to Tuskegee Army Air Field, where he joined the first class of black aviators.

In March 1942, General (then Captain) Davis received his pilot's wings, and two months later he transferred to the Army Air Corps.  Placed in command of the first black Air Force unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron at Tuskegee Army Air Field, he moved with the Squadron to North Africa in 1943, and later to Sicily.  Under the leadership of then Lieutenant Colonel Davis, the 99th Pursuit Squadron had a distinguished record in aerial combat and in close ground support missions.  The unit established itself as a premier fighter squadron in the European Theater, an achievement made possible largely through the efforts of Lieutenant Colonel Davis.  General Davis returned to the United States in October 1943, and took command of the 332nd Fighter Group at Selfridge Field, Michigan.  Two months later he returned with this organization to Italy.

At the end of World War II, General Davis returned to the United States and took command of the 477th Composite Group at Godman Field, Kentucky.  He later assumed command of the Field.  In March 1946, he was assigned to Lockbourne Army Air Base in Ohio, where he was Base Commander, and later Commander of the 332nd Fighter Wing.

After attending the Air War College in 1949-50, General Davis was assigned to the Office, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Headquarters, United States Air Force, in Washington, DC.  In 1953,  he completed the advanced jet fighter gunnery school at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

In November 1953, he became Commander of the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, Far East Air Forces, Korea.  In 1954, General Davis was appointed Director of Operations and Training, Far East Air Force Headquarters, Tokyo, Japan.  In 1955, he assumed the position of Vice Commander, Thirteenth Air Force, with the additional duty of Commander, Air Task Force 13 (Provisional), Taipei, Formosa.

In 1957, General Davis arrived at Ramstein, Germany, as Chief of Staff, 12th Air Force, United States Air Forces, Europe. Shortly thereafter, he assumed new duties as Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Headquarters, United States Air Forces, Europe.  Back in the United States in 1961, General Davis became Director of Manpower and Organization, Deputy Chief of Staff for Programs and Requirements, Headquarters, United States Air Force, in Washington, DC.

Promoted to Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff Programs and Requirements in early 1965, he held the position only a few months before being posted to Korea, where he became Chief of Staff for the United Nations Command and US Forces in Korea.  In 1967, General Davis assumed command of the Thirteenth Air Force at Clark Air Force Base, in the Philippines.

In August 1968, General Davis returned again to the United States to become Deputy Commander-in-Chief, US Strike Command, at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.  In February 1970, General Davis retired from the Air Force with the rank of Lieutenant General, completing an illustrious career of 38 years of military service to his country.

Among the many military decorations awarded General Davis were both the Army and Air Force Distinguished Service Medals; the Defense Distinguished Service Medal; the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters; the Distinguished Flying Cross; the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters; the Army Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster; the Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters; and numerous foreign decorations.

In September 1970, General Davis was selected to be Director of Aviation Security in the Department of Transportation, and he returned to Washington, DC.  Less than a year later, General Davis was appointed Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Safety and Consumer Affairs. In this new position, General Davis faced an immense and critical challenge in combating a widespread increase in aircraft hijackings and cargo theft.  By 1975, when General Davis left the Department of Transportation, he had successfully accomplished his mission, dramatically reducing cargo thefts and almost completely eliminating hijacking of aircraft within the continental United States.

In 1987, the Office of the Air Force History published "Makers of the United States Air Force.''  General Davis was one of only 12 outstanding leaders  included in that anthology.  In describing his contribution to the Air Force, the book stated, "Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. can claim a larger measure of credit for inaugurating this critical reform integration of the Air Force than any other person.  For that pioneering accomplishment, America stands in his debt".

Throughout his career, General Davis has never deviated in thought or action from the words he expressed in his autobiography:  "I have fought all my life for the integration of blacks into the mainstream of American life."

General  Davis' life serves as an example to all Americans; his career exemplifies uncommon dedication to the ideal of selfless service and is clearly in keeping with the finest traditions expressed in the motto of the Military Academy:  Duty, Honor, Country.

Accordingly, the Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy is proud to present the 1995 Distinguished Graduate Award to Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., USMA Class of 1936.