“This is my country and I believe in her. I’ll protect her against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Born on February 11, 1920, in Pensacola, Florida, Daniel James Jr. was the first African American to become a 4-star General in the US Air Force. After graduating high school in 1937, he went to college at the Tuskegee Institute where he turned an interest in flying into a pilot’s license through the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Despite racial prejudices during his time at Tuskegee, James fought for a place at military flight school and completed training in 1943.
His military career was nothing short of exceptional. During WWII, James served primarily as an instructor for the 99th Pursuit Squadron, an all African American fighter squadron known as the Red Tails. He flew more than 100 combat missions during the Korean War, earning the Distinguished Service Medal, and flew more than 75 combat missions during the Vietnam War. Throughout the 1970s, James served as a Brigadier General, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, Major General, Lieutenant General, and Vice Commander of the Military Airlift Command. In September of 1975, he became the first African American officer in the history of the United States military to attain the rank of 4-star General. It was then that he was named Commander of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) with responsibility for all aspects of air defense of the United States and Canada.
Gen Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. retired in 1978 and died February 25th of that same year. With a career that spanned three wars, he stands as a trailblazer and true military professional.
Cassandra Cantin, Sgt First Class U.S. Army (Ret.)
FROM CASSIE’S PERSPECTIVE
I’m not only proud of Daniel James for being the first African American to be promoted to the rank of 4-star General in the Air Force, I’m also proud of the fact that, in spite of the racial prejudices that he was confronted with, he still fought to become an Air Force pilot. He was also very proud to be an American and was very patriotic. He refused to be part of militant points of view during the civil rights movement and when asked about their point of view stated “…the lawlessness, rioting, men like Stokely Carmichael acting as if they speak for the Negro people. They aren’t, and set civil rights back 100 years!”