“The strength of the United States of America lies in its unity. It lies in free men blessed and ordained with the rights of freedom working to provide, build, enjoy, and grow… Today’s world situation requires strong men to stand up and be counted – no matter what their personal grievances are. Our greatest weapon is one we have always possessed – our heritage of freedom, our unity as a nation.”
~ General Daniel James Jr.
The men and women who have served our country as Tuskegee Airmen have displayed immense courage and character, both in their military service and beyond. Their example has the power to inspire us now and for future generations. In this profile we take closer look at General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., the first four-star general of the United States Air Force. He is yet another fine example of service, courage and integrity.
The Tuskegee Airmen, in all the different roles they encompassed in World War II, were critical to the advancement of civil rights in the United States, as well as positively shaping the perception of African Americans around the world. Add General James to the list of these true civil rights pioneers. Through a military career that spanned three wars, his service not only greatly benefited our country, but inspired many, many others to aspire to a career in aviation and military service.
James was born in 1920 in Florida. It’s been said that he wanted to fly from the time he was a child, and he did not let the barriers of segregation and restricted access to opportunities stop him from fulfilling his dream. After graduating from high school, he went on to the Tuskegee Institute, where he earned a spot in the Civilian Pilot Training Program. He then completed advanced military pilot training at Tuskegee Army Air Field and graduated on July 28, 1943 in class 43G, trained to fly single engine fighters. After earning his wings and his first commission, he served with the 332nd Fighter Group at Selfridge Field, Michigan, then transferred to the 477th Bombardment Group, joining the group of all black bomber pilots training for the War, but never had the chance to deploy before fighting ended in the Pacific.
Although James did not serve overseas during World War II, he saw military action in the Korean War, flying 101 combat missions in the F-51 and F-80 Shooting Star aircraft. After the war and various assignments stateside, he went on to complete 78 combat missions into North Vietnam, and led a flight in the Bolo MiG sweep in which seven MiGs were destroyed, resulting in the highest total kill of any mission during the Vietnam War.
Then in 1969, James received orders to Wheelus Air Force Base in Libya. He assumed command in the wake of the infamous Muammar Khadafy’s coup that had brought the dictator to power. In 1975 James was promoted to the prestigious rank of four star general and assigned as commander in chief of NORAD/ADCOM at Peterson Air Force Base. Here he oversaw command of all United States and Canadian strategic aerospace defense forces. He finished his illustrious career as special assistant to the Air Force chief of staff. In his service, he received much prestigious recognition, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and George Washington Medal of Freedom.
Also well known for his achievements is General James’ son, Daniel James III. He is a USAF Lieutenant General and the first African American to hold the post of Director of the Air National Guard. His flight career includes more than 300 missions and 4,000 flight hours.
General James was a renowned public speaker, remembered for his passionate speeches focused on patriotism, racial justice and commitment to service. His aerial skills were greatly respected, as was his impeccable ethics, achievement, hard work and self-reliance. He spent much effort and energy reaching out to students to aspire them to aim high and achieve their goals, acting as mentor and role model.
General James passed away in 1978, shortly after his retirement from the USAF. He is interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
We honor the late General James and thank him and his family for their service to our country. May his legacy continue to inspire for generations to come.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.