History of blacks in the military: Part II
Although Afro-Americans have served in the United States Armed Forces since the War for Independence, it was not until 1940 that any had earned the rank of General. In that year, Colonel Ben Jamin Oliver Davis Sr. was named a Brigadier General in the Regular Army.
His career began in 1898. Because of his skill and ability, he was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant in the 9th United States Volunteers shortly after he graduated from Howard University. He mustered out of the volunteers in 1899. He re-enlisted in the Regular Army that same year. By 1901 he had moved up to the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Cavalry.
Step by step he mounted the military ladder; in 1905 he was a First Lieutenant; in 1915, a Captain; in 1917, a major (temporary); in 1918-20, a Lieutenant Colonel; and in 1930, a full Colonel.
For 10 years he remained a Colonel until the pressure of World War II forced his promotion to Brigadier-General. During the long years since joining the Regular Army, Davis had served in the Philippines and been military attache at Monrovia, Liberia. Stateside, he had been an instructor in the Ohio National Guard, Professor of Military Science and tactics at Wilberforce University in Ohio and later at Tuskegee Institute, both black colleges. He was also an instructor and commander of the 369th Infantry, New York National Guard.
After 1940, Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis Sr. served as a special advisor and coordinator in the European Theater of operations. He rendered extremely valuable service in the desegregation of the military establishment.
After 50 years of outstanding service to his country, Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis Sr. retired in 1945.
A great moment in his life was the birth of his son, Benjamin O. Davis Jr., born in 1912. He was elated in 1944, to pin the Distinguished Flying Cross to the chest of Benjamin Davis Jr.
Colonel Benjamin Davis Jr. led the 94th Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group in the European Theater in World War II.
Benjamin O. Davis Jr. graduated from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University where his grades were above average. He was the only black student at West Point in 47 years and was subjected to the silent treatment. He overcame the hostility and graduated with honors. He suffered the same treatment and pressure at Tuskegee Air Base.
But Davis went on to earn the Distinguished Flying Cross and Silver Star for personal bravery, and his group won a Presidential Unit Citation.
He became the first black officer to pilot an Army Air Corps aircraft solo while training with the Tuskegee Airmen, one of the most successfull fighter groups in the U.S. Army Air Corps. These black pilots flew over 15,000 sorties in Europe during the final years of the war, destroying 251 aircraft and winning more than 850 medals.
They never lost a single bomber that they escorted on bombing runs into Europe.One of their crew was Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., who later became the Air Forces first black four-star General in 1975, the same year that the Army appointed it’s first black four-star General, Roscoe Robinson Jr. These advances were possible because of their sterling service and the fact that in 1948 President Harry Truman signed Executive Order No. 9981, eliminating discrimination in the military.
This opened up new horizons for black soldiers like Carl Brashear, who became the Navys first black Master Diver in 1963. Black soldiers served with distinction in Korea, particularly in the all black 2nd, 3rd and 25th Infantry Divisions, the 159th Field Artilliary Battalion and the 77th Engineer Combat Company. The 159th never lost a gun to the enemy and two soldiers, Private First Class William Thompson and Sgt. Cornelius H. Charlton, were posthumously awarded the first Medals of Honor to black fighting men since the Spanish-American War. In Vietnam, black soldiers served with distinction, and received more than their share of casualties in combat.
Colin Powell, a former Vietnam vet and a General led soldiers in Panama and Vietnam, and conducted diplomacy during both Gulf Wars. He was named Secretary fo State in 2000. There are now over 150 active or retired black Generals.
I served in the Korean War and I am a disabled veteran. The Armed Forces may be the most integrated employment sector in the U.S. thanks to those who fought discrimination and slavery to be recognized as citizens of the United States.