Davis, Benjamin O(liver), Jr. 1912-2002
DAVIS, Benjamin O(liver), Jr. 1912-2002
OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born December 18, 1912, in Washington, DC; died of complications from Alzheimer's disease July 4, 2002, in Washington, DC. U.S. Air Force officer and author. General Davis commanded the famous, all-black Tuskegee Airmen squadron during World War II and is credited with being a major force in integrating the U.S. military. His military career is a long story of breaking down the barriers of prejudice. The first African American to graduate from West Point in 1936, Davis was denied entrance into the U.S. Army Air Corps because of his race and instead completed his first assignment in a segregated infantry unit at Fort Benning, Georgia. After attending infantry school there, he was transferred to the Tuskegee Institute, where he taught military tactics. When President Franklin Roosevelt created an all-black flying unit in 1941, Davis advanced to become a pilot in 1942. As a lieutenant colonel, he was then put in command of the 99th Pursuit Squadron—known as the Tuskegee Airmen—in 1942. During World War II his squadron was sent to Tunisia and then Germany, where their fighter planes protected bombers from German attacks. One of Davis's proudest achievements is that his squadron never lost a bomber. Despite their record, the 99th was at risk of being disbanded until Davis protested and convinced General George Marshall to keep the unit intact. In 1944 and 1945 Davis was put in command of other all-black units: the 332nd Fighter Group, based in Italy, and then the 477th Bombardment Group, based stateside in Kentucky. After the war Davis helped President Harry S Truman draft the order to integrate the U.S. military, and served in the Pentagon and in a variety of overseas posts. In 1965 he was promoted to lieutenant general. He retired in 1970, but in 1998 President Bill Clinton promoted Davis to full general. In his post-military years, Davis worked in the Department of Transportation where, among other duties, he was in charge of the sky marshal program that helps guard planes against hijackers. Davis, a true war hero, was awarded three Distinguished Service Medals, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Legions of Merit, an Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters, the French Croix de Guerre with palm, and the Star of Africa. He wrote of his life and his achievements in his 1991 book Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., American: An Autobiography.
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, Volume III, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Who's Who among African Americans, 11th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Who's Who in American Politics, 16th edition, Marquis (New Providence, NJ), 1997.
Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2002, p. B18.
New York Times, July 7, 2002, p. A19.
Washington Post, July 6, 2002, p. B7.