An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : News
NEWS | Oct. 26, 2022

Commentary: Remembering Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr.

By Andrew C. Patterson 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

On this day in 1954, Benjamin O. Davis Jr. made history by becoming the first African American in the U.S. Air Force to be promoted to general officer. 

Davis Jr. was born in Washington, D.C., in 1912, to Elnora and Benjamin O. Davis Sr. His father was the first African American to rise to the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Army. Davis Jr. developed a thirst for flying at age 13 and became determined to fly.

As a young man in July 1932, he entered West Point as the first black cadet to attend in the 20th century and the fourth to ever attend. Initially ostracized by his classmates, his courage and determination later won their respect and admiration. He graduated in the top 20 percent of his class in 1936.

Davis Jr. earned his pilot wings in March 1942 after attending the Advanced Flying School, also known as the Tuskegee Army Air Base. Within the next year, he became commander of the 99th Fighter Squadron at Tuskegee and deployed with his unit to North Africa in 1943.

Successfully defending the combat performance of his unit from unfair allegations, Davis Jr. assumed command of the 332nd Fighter Group in 1944. During the War, the units he commanded compiled a record of 15,000 sorties, 112 enemy planes shot down, and 273 planes destroyed on the ground. Davis Jr. personally led 67 missions.

In 1949, he attended Air War College and served at the Pentagon, where he drafted the staffing package that established the Air Force Thunderbirds. In 1953, he took command of the 51st Fighter Wing at Osan Air Base located in South Korea.

Davis Jr. was promoted to brigadier general, becoming the first black general in the Air Force in 1954. He retired as a lieutenant general after serving as the deputy commander in chief of U.S. Strike Command in 1970. On Dec. 9, 1998, Benjamin O. Davis Jr. received the rank of general from President Bill Clinton.

He died on July 4, 2002, at 89 years of age. He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery next to his wife, Agatha. They are buried beside Elnora and Benjamin Sr.

His military decorations include the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, Army Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters and the Philippine Legion of Honor.

The Air Force is forever grateful for Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr.'s actions, contributions and sheer determination in helping to make it impossible to keep doors closed to people of color.