Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Today in Black History - Daniel "Chappie" James
Born on February 11, 1920, Daniel “Chappie” James was raised in a family of modest means in Pensacola, Florida. His grandmother was the highly respected founder of a private school that produced a steady stream of success-bound African Americans for more than 40 years. James’ mother, Lillie Anna, encouraged her children to follow their dreams and, in her words, “be packed and ready to jump on board when the train pulls into the station.”
James’ passion was airplanes. When he was 17 years old, he considered enlisting in the Navy as a path to becoming a pilot, but was told African Americans could only be cooks or stewards. He then decided to enroll at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. His academic goal was a degree in physical education, but he also knew that Tuskegee had started a government-funded civil pilot training program, and he immediately enrolled in it.
In 1940, the government converted the civil program into one designed to train Blacks for segregated flying units in the Army Air Force. By the time it ended in 1946, the Tuskegee program
President Truman signed an order integrating the armed forces in 1948. While this marked the end of the black flying units, it did not mean the end for black pilots in the military. The Air Force (no longer a branch of the Army) put James in charge of an integrated fighter-bomber squadron in the Philippines.
James flew his first mission as a combat fighter pilot in Korea. Between 1950 and 1951, he completed 101 missions, first in the legendary F-51 Mustang and then in the Air Force’s first jet,
James next made a career decision to attend the Air Force Air Command and Staff College in Alabama. Graduating in 1957, he was assigned to Air Force Headquarters in Washington, where he remained until 1960, when he was sent to an Air Force unit at the Royal Air Force base in Bentwaters, England. There, he rose from wing operations director to squadron commander, and then to deputy wing commander. In 1964, James was assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, serving as director of operations training and deputy commander for operations.
Meanwhile, a new war had began in Vietnam, and it was escalating in intensity. In 1966, James was stationed at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, serving first as deputy commander for operations and then as wing vice commander. These were not desk jobs: he would fly 78 combat missions from Ubon. A signal event in James’ Vietnam tour of duty took place on January 2, 1967, when he served as a flight leader for Operation Bolo, a secret mission designed to trick North Vietnamese fighters into engaging the F-4 Phantoms they had learned to avoid. Seven North Vietnamese jets were shot down, the most in a single mission during the war.
Late in 1967, his tour in southeast Asia completed, James was deployed to Elgin Air Force Base in Florida as vice wing commander. While at Elgin, James ventured into the public realm once more, giving presentations on the war and describing the Air Force’s success in providing opportunities for minorities. His career then took a giant leap forward in 1969 when the Air Force promoted him to the rank of Brigadier General and put him in command of Wheelus Air Force Base in Libya. There, James showed yet another side of his abilities. Faced with a demand from Libya to shut down base operations, he handled the affair like a seasoned diplomat.
In 1970, James returned to the Pentagon where he was given a succession of ever more prestigious positions. In March 1974, he became a Major General, but not for long. Just seven months later, he
During this period, James began to experience increasingly serious heart problems. After serving briefly as a special
*Article Courtesy of