Tuskegee Airman sees success as first AF four-star general

Posted 2/11/2012

by Air Force Print News Today

2/11/2012 – FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (AFNS) — One of the original Tuskegee Airmen went on to become the first African-American to attain the rank of four-star general in the U.S. Air Force.

Born in Pensacola, Fla., in 1920, the youngest of 17 children in a relatively poor family, Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James Jr. had a career that spanned three wars and close to 40 years, and he was a recognized civil rights pioneer.

He attended Tuskegee Institute at Tuskegee, Ala., where he received a bachelor of science degree in 1942 in physical education, and completed civilian pilot training under the government-sponsored Civilian Pilot Training Program.

James remained at the Tuskegee Institute during World War II as a pilot instructor, but saw combat action during the Korean War, completing 101 combat missions as a fighter pilot in the P-51 Mustang and the F-80 jet aircraft.

During Vietnam, James was assigned to the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base where he arrived as the deputy operations chief and was later named the vice commander of the wing. He flew 78 combat missions into North Vietnam and led a famed flight in the "Operation Bolo" MiG sweep where seven communist MiG 21s were destroyed – the highest total single mission kill of the war.

James became Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) on March 31, 1970, and was designated Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) on April 20, 1973.

James was promoted to four-star grade and assigned as commander in chief, NORAD/ADCOM, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Sept. 1, 1975. In these dual capacities, he had operational command of all United States and Canadian strategic aerospace defense forces. His last position was special assistant to the Air Force chief of staff.

James was widely known for his speeches on Americanism and patriotism, for which he was editorialized in numerous national and international publications. Excerpts from some of the speeches have been read into the Congressional Record. He was awarded the George Washington Freedom Foundation Medal in 1967 and again in 1968. He received the Arnold Air Society Eugene M. Zuckert Award, in 1970, for outstanding contributions to Air Force professionalism. His citation read "… fighter pilot with a magnificent record, public speaker, and eloquent spokesman for the American Dream we so rarely achieve."

James retired from active service on Feb. 1, 1978 and died of a heart attack later that month on Feb 25. He was also the father of Lt. Gen. Daniel James III, another prominent African American Airman, who served in the Air Force and in the Texas Air National Guard.

"His mother gave him a vision," General James III said of his father. "That vision was that you can be anything you want to be in this world if you work hard enough and prepare yourself. He came from a great big family, not very well off. But she knew in order for him to really aspire and be somebody, he had to have that vision, that dream."

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