Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Collection - Official Duties, Personnel, Integration
About the Project
Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr. was born in Washington, DC on December 18, 1912. He attended Western Reserve University and the University of Chicago before gaining admission to the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. He graduated in the Class of 1936 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry.
After serving in the infantry for several years Davis was posted to the newly-established Tuskegee Army Air Field, AL for pilot training in 1942. He commanded the 99th Fighter Squadron, the first unit of “Tuskegee Airmen.” Two units of Tuskegee Airmen saw combat during World War II: the 99th Fighter Squadron and the 332d Fighter Group. Davis, promoted to Colonel in 1944, commanded both of these units in turn, leading the 99th and 332d in combat in Europe and earning the Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit, and Silver Star for his own actions and a Distinguished Unit Citation for the 332d Fighter Group. Davis was responsible for the success of the 477th, as he quickly brought the unit up to deployment requirements, in spite of racial tensions that had previously left the unit lacking training. The performance of the units under Davis' command had laid to rest questions regarding the abilities of the "negro race" and in 1948 the Air Force determined that the efficient use of its manpower required the integration of its units. As a result the Air Force rapidly complied with President Truman's order for the integration of the United States military.
The integration procedure, however, resulted in the deactivation of Davis' command as its personnel were dispersed among the rest of the Air Force; Davis himself was assigned to attend classes at the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, AL. After completing the course of study at the Air War College, Davis was posted to a variety of command and staff positions both within the United States and abroad.
Davis was promoted to Brigadier General in October 1954, after ten years as a Colonel. He was promoted to Major General in June 1959 and to Lieutenant General in April 1965. Despite persistent rumors of his impending promotion to full General, no such promotion was pending by the time of his retirement on January 31, 1970. On December 9, 1998, Davis was promoted to General on the Retired List, receiving his fourth star from President William Clinton in a ceremony held in the Presidential Hall of the Old Executive Office Building in Washington, DC. The promotion came only after the Tuskegee Airmen approached Senator John McCain of Arizona, who agreed that the promotion was warranted by Davis' service.