By Jennifer Spradlin and Meade Warthen | U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force Academy will pay tribute to the barrier-breaking career of Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the Tuskegee Airman and World War II pilot, when it names its airfield in his honor, Nov. 1.
“For our family, this is the greatest honor that we could ask for,” said Douglas Melville, his great-nephew. “The airfield at the Academy is one of the busiest airfields in the entire world, and it’s an honor that his name will live on that airfield until infinity.”
Davis entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1932, and in his junior year, applied for the Army Air Corps, but was rejected because it did not accept African Americans. He graduated in 1936 and served as an infantry officer in an all-black regiment.
At the beginning of World War II, Davis was assigned to the first training class at Tuskegee Army Air Field, Alabama. Graduates of this program became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
Davis earned his pilot wings in 1942. During the war, he commanded the first all-black air unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron. Deployed to Tunisia, North Africa, and flying P-40 fighters, the squadron saw combat for the first time in a dive-bombing mission against a German-held position as part of Operation Corkscrew. He later commanded the 332nd Fighter Group that deployed to Europe, where it racked up outstanding combat record against the German Luftwaffe.
Davis continued his Air Force career at the Pentagon and overseas. He was an instrumental figure in desegregating the Air Force and later pushing for women to be accepted into the Air Force Academy.
“General Davis was all about breaking barriers. It was a huge passion of his — really because it was so inefficient — he looked at breaking barriers as it’s the most efficient way to operate as a nation: united,” Melville said.
Davis retired as a lieutenant general in 1970. In 1998, he was advanced to the grade of general. President Bill Clinton pinned on his four-star insignia at White House ceremony including the Davis family and original members of the Tuskegee Airmen.
This year marks the 78th anniversary of the Tuskegee Airmen. The naming of the Academy’s airfield after General Benjamin O. Davis helps solidify their illustrious legacy.