EAA Chapter 1288
About Gen. Daniel 'Chappie' James
The full name of our EAA Chapter is "The Experimental Aircraft Association General Daniel 'Chappie' James, Jr. Chapter 1288, Inc." We are truly honored to be able to honor the life and important achievements of General James in this small way.
| General Daniel James (USAF Photo) |
Daniel James, Jr., was born on February 11, 1920, in Pensacola, FL. At that time, it was often quite difficult for a young black man like Daniel (or "Chappie" as he was known) to become successful, especially in the deeply segregated south. Not long after his graduation from Washington High School in Pensacola in June 1937, he left for Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, AL, a black college. By March 1942, while the Second World War raged on, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education. He learned to fly at Tuskegee, in the government-sponsored Civilian Pilot Training Program. He advanced to become a civilian instructor pilot for the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program at Tuskegee. In January 1943, he took the opportunity to enter the program as a cadet. He did well, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps in July 1943. He completed fighter pilot combat training at Selfridge Field in Michigan. For the rest of the war, he trained pilots for the 99th Pursuit Squadron, an "experimental" all-black squadron, and also worked in other assignments in the US.
As you might know, the highly controversial "Tuskegee Experiment" was basically designed to fail and prove the inability of black soldiers to fly aircraft in combat. It turned out, of course, that not only could the "Tuskegee Airmen" fly, but they could fly well. Really, really well. Their combat record became the envy of the entire Air Corps and their reputation for never losing a bomber under their protection to enemy action quickly drew the attention... and requests... of the hard-hit bomber units that were slugging it out with the Germans. Despite the many additional challenges posed by the rampant racism of the times, the Tuskegee Airmen fought as well and as bravely for their country as any soldiers anywhere.
After the war, James remained in the service, and was there in 1947 when the Army Air Corps was transformed into the new and independent United States Air Force. In September 1949, he was assigned as a Flight Leader in the 12th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 18th Fighter Wing at Clark Airfield in the Philippines. In July 1950, he went to Korea for the UN "police action" there, flying 101 combat missions in the F-51 (formerly P-51) Mustang and the first operational US jet fighter, the F-80 Shooting Star.
He returned stateside and in July 1951, James transferred to Otis AFB in Massachusetts. There he was assigned to the 58th Fighter Interceptor Squadron as an all-weather jet fighter pilot, eventually becoming the Operations Officer. He was promoted to Major and in April 1953, he became the commander of the 437th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. In 1954, James' efforts in community relations during his time at Otis AFB earned him the Massachusetts Junior Chamber of Commerce "Young Man of the Year" award. He became the commander of the 60th FIS in August 1955.
He graduated from the Air Command and Staff College in June 1957 and was then assigned as a Staff Officer in the Air Defense Division of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at USAF Headquarters in Washington DC. In July 1960, he went to the RAF Station at Bentwaters in England. There, he was the Assistant Director of Operations and later the Director of Operations for the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing. He became the Commander of the 92nd Tactical Fighter Squadron and also served as the Deputy Commander for Operations for the 81st Wing.
In September 1964, James became the Director of Operations Training at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona. He later became the Deputy Commander for Operations of the 4453d Combat Crew Training Wing.
In December 1966, James again had a chance to see combat. He was assigned to Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, where he served as Deputy Commander for Operations for the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing. He became the Vice-Commander of the wing in June 1967. During this time, he flew 78 combat missions, many into North Vietnam. Many of these missions were to the heavily-defended and extremely dangerous areas near Hanoi and Haiphong. He led a flight in the famous "Bolo" MiG sweep mission in which seven MiG-21 fighters were shot down. This mission had highest number of MiG kills of any mission during the Vietnam War.
In December 1967, (now Colonel) James became the Vice-Commander of the 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing based at Eglin AFB, Florida. James was by this time a real role model, and was awarded the George Washington Freedom Foundation Medal in both 1967 and 1968. In 1969, while still at Eglin, he was named as Florida's Outstanding American of the Year by the Florida Jaycees and was awarded the Jaycee Distinguished Service Award. He was presented with the Arnold Air Society's Eugene M. Zuckert Award in 1970 to honor his contributions to Air Force professionalism. His citation for the Zuckert Award stated, in part, that he was a "fighter pilot with a magnificent record, public speaker, and eloquent spokesman for the American Dream we so rarely achieve."
James's military career continued to gain steam as well. He was promoted to Brigadier General (1-star) and became the Base Commander at Wheelus Air Base in Libya in August 1969, where he commanded the 7272nd Fighter Training Wing. At the end of March 1970, James was promoted to Major General (2 stars) and became the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs). In April 1973, he was designated as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs). In September 1974, he attained the rank of Lieutenant General (3 stars) and became the Vice-Commander of the Military Airlift Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.
General James was promoted to a four-star General on September 1, 1975. This was very significant as he was the first Black American to ever attain this highest rank in the US military services.
At this time, James became the Commander-In-Chief of NORAD/ADCOM at Peterson AFB, Colorado. For a kid who grew up fighting to make his way in a racially-biased society, he certainly had seen some real changes... he now had operational command of all the strategic aerospace defense forces throughout the entire United States and Canada... in short, General James was now responsible for the air defense of most of North America. (One has to wonder what some of the Tuskegee Experiment's many detractors would have thought had they known how far some of the "test subjects" would go!) General James' final posting in the US Air Force was as special assistant to the Air Force chief of staff.
While he certainly stayed quite busy with his military responsibilities during this time, General James was also a much-requested public speaker. He became well-known for his stirring speeches on America and patriotism, and parts of his speeches have even been entered into the Congressional Record. James also became known as a man who went out of his way to make time to talk with youth groups. He never forgot his roots and particularly enjoyed working with minority students, who must have seen him as proof positive that given the desire, there really is no limit on what one can achieve even in the face of societal pressures and detractors.
General James retired from active military service on February 1, 1978. Sadly, he didn't get much of a chance to enjoy his retirement. Less than a month after retiring, he was stricken by a heart attack and died on February 25th in Colorado Springs, at the too-young age of 58 years old.
However, during his remarkable life, James certainly set a shining example of the great opportunities available to Americans of any race or background. Perhaps paradoxically, while having to personally overcome the many challenges posed by racial prejudices so prevalent throughout our society during his lifetime, he was also a significant force in overcoming those prejudices by proving his abilities to do his job as well as anyone else, and further by being an engaged and active American citizen.
On March 2, 1978, General James was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery (Section 2, Grave 4968B LH). His memorial reads, in part: "This is my country and I believe in her. I'll protect her against all enemies, foreign and domestic."
| General Daniel and Dorothy James' gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery (Photo by Michael R. Patterson, via Arlington Cemetery Website) |
Chappie's widow, Dorothy Watkins James (June 27, 1921 - May 2, 2000) passed away at the age of 79 in San Antonio, TX and was buried next to her husband on May 9, 2000. Mrs. James was a Tuskegee native, the oldest of two daughters born to J. A. and Daisy F. Watkins. She graduated from Tuskegee Institute in 1943. Survivors include their children, Major General Daniel James III, Danice J. Berry of San Diego, CA, and Claude A. James of San Antonio, TX; a son-in-law, Dr. Frank W. Berry, Jr.; daughters-in-law, Dana M. James and Diane James; five grandchildren, Jamie M. Berry, Max W. Berry, Frank W. Berry III, Ryan M. James, and Brittany D. James; a sister and brothers-in-law Aubrey W. Simms and Robert H. Simms of Miami Lakes, FL; a sister-in-law, Lillie J. Frazier; a stepmother, Addie Watkins of Tuskegee, AL; a niece, Lia Mitchell; a nephew, uncles, aunts, cousins, adn a host of others. It goes without saying that many, many friends can also be included in the list of those who will miss the James's.
During his military career, General James was awarded (among many other awards) the Distinguished Flying Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, and the Legion of Merit.
General James's life of public service in parallel with his military career garnered him numerous civilian awards, including: 1969 - Builders of a Greater Arizona Award; 1970 - Phoenix Urban League Man of the Year Award, Distinguished Service Achievement Award from Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity; 1971 - American Legion National Commander's Public Relations Award, Veteran of Foreign Wars Commander in Chief's Gold Medal Award and Citation; 1975 - Capital Press Club, Washington, D.C., Salute to Black Pioneers Award; 1976 - Air Force Association Jimmy Doolittle Chapter Man of the Year Award, Florida Association of Broadcasters' Gold Medal Award, American Veterans of World War II Silver Helmet Award, United Service Organization Liberty Bell Award, Blackbook Minority Business and Reference Guidance Par Excellence Award, American Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award, United Negro College Fund's Distinguished Service Award, Horatio Alger Award, VFW Americanism Medal, Bishop Wright Air Industry Award, and the Kitty Hawk Award (Military). He was awarded honorary doctor of laws degrees from the University of West Florida in 1971, the University of Akron in 1973, Virginia State College in 1974, Delaware State College in 1975, and St. Louis University in 1976. In 1971, he was named as honorary national commander of the Arnold Air Society.
Continuing a family tradition, General James' son, Lieutenant General Daniel James III, also became a distinguished officer. Serving in the USAF and Texas Air National Guard, he served as the Adjutant General of the Texas ANG from 1995 until 2002 - the first black officer to hold that position. He became the Director of the Air National Guard in 2002 and served until the summer of 2006, at which time he retired from the USAF after 38 years of service.
The members of EAA Chapter 1288 are proud that we are able to celebrate the memory and honor the legacy of General Daniel "Chappie" James Jr., and we greatly value our continuing association with the Tuskegee Airmen who exemplify the very best American ideals, service, and dedication to be found anywhere in our great country.