The Tuskegee Airmen began in March of 1942, with only five cadets graduating in the inaugural class. The first commander of the 99th Fighter Squadron was George S. Roberts, a distinguished man who later became a colonel who flew over 100 missions. Later, in World War II, Benjamin O. Davis Jr. assumed command of the 99th fighter squadron and the 332nd, and led a life of initiative that yielded unprecedented accomplishments.
Davis began his journey at West Point in 1932. He gained admission through his nomination by Representative Oscar S. De Priest, the first African-American congressman. From a young age, Davis saw that the career of his father, a U. S. Army general, was held back by discrimination.
Benjamin O. Davis Sr. was the first African American brigadier general, but was only allowed limited responsibilities because of his race. Davis saw these inequalities and chose to “rise above."
After graduating from West Point—the first Black man to do so—he became one of the five original Tuskegee Airmen, and, in 1942, organized the 332nd Fighter Group. Through World War II, Davis flew more than 60 combat missions, and led the European theater's longest bomber escort to Berlin.
During the mission to Berlin, he and his unit of 43 fighters flew more than 1,600 miles. And, en route, they shot down three German jets. The feat earned the 332nd the Distinguished Unit Citation.
After the war, Davis held other leadership positions, and, in 1948, helped plan the Air Force’s desegregation. He has a long list of accomplishments, including becoming the first Black four-star general in the Air Force and the director of Civil Aviation Security in the U.S. Department of Transportation. Lastly, he received a Silver Star and two Distinguished Service Medals.
General Davis was an outstanding man of honor and a true role model for the Tuskegee Airmen. He embodied the unit’s six “Rise Above” principles: “aim high, believe in yourself, use your brain, never quit, be ready to go, and expect to win.”
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