Gen. Benjamin Davis Jr. served as commander of the Tuskegee Airmen and was the Air Force's first African-American general. USAF photo.
The US Air Force Academy in Colorado on Nov. 1 will rename its airfield in honor of the late Gen. Benjamin Davis Jr., the former head of the Tuskegee Airmen and the Air Force’s first African-American general.
Renaming the airfield helps honor and memorialize the legacy of the first black military aviators in the Army Air Corps, according to an Oct. 30 USAFA release.
“For our family, this is the greatest honor that we could ask for,” Douglas Melville, his great-nephew, said in an Oct. 25 release. “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 graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point in New York in 1936, and earned his pilot’s wings from the Advanced Flying School at Tuskegee Army Air Field, Ala., in March 1942. He became part of the Army Air Corps two months later, according to his Air Force biography. When Davis initially tried to join the Corps during his time at West Point, he was rejected on the basis of race, USAFA said.
During World War II, Davis commanded the 99th Pursuit Squadron (later the 99th Fighter Squadron), the US Army Air Corps’ first unit comprised solely of African-American airmen. The squadron deployed to North Africa and Sicily. He was later put in charge of the 332nd Fighter Group (which the 99th FS joined) that took on the German Luftwaffe, USAFA said.
“Davis continued his Air Force career at the Pentagon and overseas,” USAFA wrote. “He was an instrumental figure in desegregating the Air Force and later pushing for women to be accepted into the Air Force Academy.”
He is also credited with advocating for the creation of the Thunderbirds aerial acrobatics team, and for the use of aerial refueling for fighters.
Davis attended the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Ala., among other US military institutions, and served in several leadership roles across the Air Force. He retired as a lieutenant general in 1970 and received a fourth star from President Bill Clinton in 1998. The post-retirement promotion was the result of Davis’ fellow Tuskegee Airmen lobbying the late Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, according to the Smithsonian Institution. Davis died in 2002.
The Air Force also honored the Tuskegee Airmen earlier this year by naming its new trainer aircraft the T-7A Red Hawk, in honor of the men and the P-40 Warhawk fighters they piloted.