The first black general in the United States Air Force was Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. His father, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., was the first black general officer in the U.S. Army and the Armed Forces.
A Family Legacy
Davis Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps heading into leadership in the U.S. military. Davis Jr. was the fourth black cadet ever to graduate from West Point.
In World War II, he became the commander of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all-African American group of the Army Air Corps. He was in charge of the 99th Fighter Squadron during Operation Corkscrew in 1943.
The operation was under Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who wanted to take control of Pantelleria and Lampedusa, two islands 50 miles off of the Tunisian coast. It was also in the perfect path for invading Sicily in Operation Husky.
Davis’ squadron participated in the continual air attacks on the island from May until June 1943. Then, finally, Pantelleria surrendered, and the commander of the area, Col. J.R. Watkins, sent Davis a message saying, “I wish to extend to you and the members of the squadron my heartiest congratulations for the splendid part you played in the Pantelleria show.
“You have met the challenge of the enemy and have come out of your initial christening into battle stronger qualified than ever. Your people have borne up well under battle conditions, and there is every reason to believe that with more experience, you will take your place in the battle line along with the best of them.”Col. J.R. Watkins
The Air Force became its own entity in 1947 and became one service in 1949, largely in part to Davis Jr and the pilots in his squadron. On Oct. 27, 1954, he became a Brigadier General.
Davis retired as a Lieutenant General, though on Dec. 9, 1998, President Bill Clinton gave him a fourth star. General Davis died in 2002 at 89. He passed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.