Soldier father, Airman son change American military with selfless service

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Benjamin Davis Drive is a small street in Clovis, and where it makes a hard curve, is a street sign that seems confusing. It appears to intersect with itself.

What is not confusing, however, is the fact that the street is named after two large men who helped change conditions for African-Americans in the American military and perceptions by the American public.

Benjamin O. Davis Sr. was born July 1, 1877, in Washington, D.C., and rose from an enlisted private to become the American military's first African-American general. His son, Benjamin O. Davis Jr., was the first African-American to graduate from West Point in the 20th century.

In 1898, the senior Davis enlisted in the 8th U.S. Volunteer Infantry during the Spanish-American War and in 1899 reenlisted in the regular Army as a private. In 1901, he was commissioned a second lieutenant, served in the Philippines and later became a professor of military science and tactics at a military university. He was given his first command in 1938, and in 1940, after 42 years of service, became the first African-American brigadier general in the U. S. military.

In 1946, General Davis became Assistant to the Inspector General in Washington, D.C., and his report on segregation was a determining factor in President Harry Truman's decision to end segregation in the military in 1948. The Air Force was the first branch of service to fully integrate.

After 50 years of service, he retired July 14, 1948, and died Nov. 26, 1970. On Jan, 28, 1997, the Benjamin O. Davis Sr. commemorative stamp was issued and dedicated at the National Guard Armory in Washington, D.C.

General Davis passed his love of the military on to his son, Benjamin O. Davis Jr. who was born Dec. 18, 1912. After attending the University of Chicago he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. in 1932. Because he was African American, he was officially "silenced" by his fellow cadets - no one spoke with him, except on official business for four years - and he roomed alone.

He was the first African-American officer in the Army Air Force and a leader of the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. His military career spanned five decades and three wars.

In 1942, six months shy of his 30th birthday, the junior Davis assumed command of the Tuskegee Army Air Force's 99th Fighter Squadron. He flew P-51 Mustangs in combat in Europe and later formed the 332nd Fighter Group. The group never lost a single bomber to enemy aircraft.

In the spring of 1945 General Davis led a fighter squadron against airfields in southern Germany and received the Silver Star.

Benjamin Davis Jr. retired as a lieutenant general in 1970.  President Clinton promoted Davis to four-star general (retired) on Dec. 9, 1998. General Davis died July 4, 2002.

(Note: The original article was published in the Feb. 6, 2006 issue of the Mach Meter, the former base paper at Cannon Air Force Base. Sources: Compiled from the Air Force News Agency, the U. S. Air Force Biographical Dictionary by Col. Flint DuPre, The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, 2005, and U. S. Army Archives)