General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. was an original Tuskegee Airman, WWII Squadron and Group Commander, 13th Air Force Commander, winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross, and Air Force innovator in airmanship and diversity. The United States Air Force Academy is honoring his proud legacy by naming the USAFA airfield after General Davis.
My name is Doug Melville, and I’m the great nephew of General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. General Davis was really all about breaking barriers, and his mere existence from the beginning of his career up until his retirement were all about breaking barriers from the first person in the 20th Century of color that graduated from West Point and then his opportunity that he had to create the Tuskegee Airmen and lead them was a huge barrier shift. Really throughout his career when he joined the Air Force when it separated from the Army Air Corps, he broke many barriers. One of the things beside the Tuskegee Airmen that really personified him breaking barriers was the desegregation of the United States Air Force as the first branch of the military to do that. So that was a huge passion of his and really because it was so inefficient, so he looked at breaking barriers as it’s the most efficient way to operate as a nation united. He didn’t look at himself as the first black anything and he really didn’t even like that moniker. He said, I’m an officer, I’m a general, I am doing my duty to improve the United States Air Force through my role here with this division of the military. He was so passionate about the Air Force Academy, he was critical in allowing women to attend the Air Force Academy and break the barrier of allowing this to be an all male institution. For our family, this is the greatest honor that we could ask for. The Airfield at the academy is one of the busiest airfields in the entire world and it’s an honor that his name will live on that airfield until, infinity. It’s really special, it’s something that you can not buy, It’s something that you had to earn and it’s something that in your death other people had to get together and had to come together and unify of all the individuals to graduate from the Air Force Academy, from all the people that have served their nation, living and dead in the United States Air Force and Army Air Corps, one name gets to live on the airfield. And of all those individuals, it’s General Benjamin O. Davis Jr., is the greatest honor that anybody could ever ask for. It’s really special, it’s hard to put it into words to be honest but…
Good morning, ladies and gentleman, I’m Head 3rd Class Imani May Smith and I’ll be your narrator for today’s ceremony. As a reminder, because today’s ceremony is in doors, military members should come to attention but not salute during the National Anthem. All other attendees will please stand if able, face the flag, remove any head gear and place their right hand over their heart. At this time please stand for the singing of the National Anthem by the United States Air Force Academy’s Gospel Choir. ♪ O, say can you see ♪ ♪ By the dawn’s early light ♪ ♪ What so proudly we hailed ♪ ♪ At the twilight’s last gleaming ♪ ♪ Whose broad stripes and bright stars ♪ ♪ Through the perilous fight ♪ ♪ O’er the ramparts we watched ♪ ♪ Were so gallantly streaming ♪ ♪ And the rockets’ red glare ♪ ♪ The bombs bursting in air ♪ ♪ Gave proof through the night ♪ ♪ That our flag was still there ♪ ♪ O, say does that star-spangled ♪ ♪ Banner yet wave ♪ ♪ O’er the land of the free ♪ ♪ And the home of the brave ♪ ♪ Brave ♪
Thank you Gospel Choir for that beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, ladies and gentleman please be seated.
That was really good.
At this time, I’d like to introduce our distinguished guests, please hold your applause until all have been introduced. The Secretary of the Air Force, The Honorable Barbara Barrett. The Secretary, pardon me, please. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force General David Goldfein and his spouse Dawn. Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright. Our CORONA attendees with us today, your host, the 20th Superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy Lieutenant General Jay Silveria and his spouse Virginia, accompanied by the United States Air Force Academy Command Chief Master Sergeant Sarah Sparks. Our guest speaker, Commander of Pacific Air Forces Air Component Commander for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the Executive Director of the Pacific Air Combat Operation staff General C.Q. Brown Jr. and his spouse Sharene, daughter of Tuskegee Airman Lieutenant Colonel Richard Biffle Jr. Also joining us today Ms. Sonya D. Melville, Ms. Sonya Lisa Melville, Mr. Scott D. Melville and Ms. Angelique Chamberlain. We’d also like to welcome, representing the office of Senator Cory Gardner, Ms. Heba Abdallah. Representing the office of Senator Michael Bennett, Ms. Annie Oatman-Gardner. The Honorable Andres Pico Colorado Spring City Council. Lieutenant General Darrell Williams, Superintendent of the United States Military Academy and his leadership in attendance. General Retired Edward Rice, Chairman, United States Air Force Academy Board of Visitors. Brigadier General Leon Johnson United States Air Force Retired, President of Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated and his wife Mrs. Rita Raines as well as all chapter presidents and members with us today. Captain Frederick Juice Johnson, USAFA Class of 2012 and the visionary behind General Davis’s selection for this honor. Mr. Pete Javrick of Diageo North America the donor of the commemorative coins for today’s ceremony and all commanders both past and present of the 306 Flying Training Group. Although time does not permit me to introduce each distinguished guest, we extend a warm welcome to the many current and former Air Force Academy leaders, previous superintendents, our U.S. Air Force Academy senior leaders, Mission Element Commanders and their Command Chiefs, our faculty and staff, members of our military community and civic leaders and civilian guests in attendance today. Ladies and gentleman, please turn your attention to the red blazer on the stage. This blazer was owned by General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Its red color represents the iconic Red Tails of the distinctive P-51 Mustang Fighters flown by the 332nd Fighter Group General Davis commanded in combat. In 2011, Brigadier General James Boddie Jr. donated General Davis’ blazer to the United States Air Force Academy where it is proudly displayed at Arnold Hall. In today’s ceremony we will honor General Benjamin O. Davis who established many firsts for our U.S. Air Force. He was the first black Air Force Pilot in an Army Corps that argued he lacked the skills to fly and fight. General Davis was the first Combat Commander of an all black Fighter Squadron and the Fighter Group in World War II. His famed Red Tails of the 332nd Fighter Group earned a storied reputation of protecting the heavies in the skies of Nazi Germany. Together with the crews of the 477th Bomb Group which General Davis also Commanded, they challenged assumptions and established a reputation for excellence pivotal to the outcome of World War II. They fought both Nazi racism in Europe and institutional racism in the United States. Earning wood is now referred to as a Double V for Victory, helping to set the stage for the Civil Rights Movement. After the war, General Davis was instrumental in creating the Air Force Thunderbirds and became the first black Air Force General and the first black numbered Air Force Commander. Most importantly for the Air Force Academy he served as the chairman of the Board of Visitors and is personally involved with improving the Academy’s inclusivity leading to the integration of women into the cadet wing. On 20 March 2019, General David Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force granted his approval of the United States Air Force Academy to rename its airfield in honor of General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. General Davis is singularly deserving of this honor for his service as an extraordinary Air Force leader and Airman who exemplified our service’s great traditions of breaking barriers and overcoming seemingly impossible odds. Ladies and gentleman, the Superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy Lieutenant General Jay Silveria.
Well good morning. What a remarkable gathering and thank you all for being here today. I know that Imani went through all the distinguished guests that are here but I want to single out some people to thank them for being here today. Secretary Barrett, General Goldfein, thank you for being here and thank you for your support. Not only this project but for the Air Force Academy, so thank you. General Brown, thank you. You’ve always been an amazing mentor of mine and your example and your leadership but for you to be here is especially special, not just for me but for the Air Force Academy and for this project, so thank you. Thank you for being here. Judge Melville, Doug, thank you it’s truly an honor to have you here representing the family and it’s really really truly a pleasure to get to meet you and talk to you, so we hope this is also a beginning of a long relationship between the family and the United States Air Force Academy, so thank you. All of the documented original Tuskegee Airmen, gentleman, Peggy, we’re honored to be in your presence, thank you for being here, you are true American heroes and true inspirations to us and to all of the cadets, so thank you for being here. And a special thank you to my brother Darrell Williams the Superintendent of West Point who’s here and you should know that West Point outpaced us by naming a barracks after General Davis years ago. So embarrassingly so, we’re catching up. So Darrell it’s great to have you and as always Darrell and I are great friends as we try to take on all of the challenges we have at our academies, but great to have you here Darrell. This naming project is an incredible journey and it was mentioned about where it started but I think we need to say a little bit more about that. Juice, Captain Fred Juice Johnson graduated in the class of 2012 and when he was a cadet here he had the vision that we would name the airfield after General Davis. And today we’re honored to have Juice with us. Juice wherever you are, please stand up. We owe you an apology Juice, that it took us 10 years to catch up to you and catch up to your vision but thank you, thank you for beginning this journey for us. There’s also a number of other people that were instrumental along those years. Lieutenant General Rich Clark, who was Captain Johnson’s commandant at the time. Colonel Jules Stevens, he was your AOC at the time who also provided some mentorship and leadership, those are important people. Our own Director of Staff Colonel Retired Gail Colvin a member of the original class of 1980, the first USAFA class to include women was also, in this project over the years, so thank you Gail. Our historian, Dr. Charles Dusch, thank you for your leadership and all of the people who make today happen, thank you very much. I’ve always said from the beginning that everything around here as we drive by has a name on it. We have Sijan and Vandenberg and Fairchild and Harmon and you drive down Stadium Boulevard and you see an amazing blue sign that says Airfield. So, I truly think we can do better, we’ve tried to do better and today we’re gonna mark the occasion that we have actually achieved that. And so many people this morning will talk about General Davis and what he did not just for the Tuskegee Airmen and for World War II but for the United States Air Force but I want to mention a few important points for us here at the Air Force Academy that General Davis was really instrumental in driving this institution towards a much more diverse and a much more inclusive population. Reducing attrition rates of the minorities and crucial in developing the plan to integrate women at the United States Air Force Academy. To that we truly owe a legacy here at the Air Force Academy for all that we’ve accomplished since then. So thank you all for coming here today. I’m humbled to be one of the first to step to this podium, there’ll be so many after me but I’m honored to introduce the 21st Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force General Dave Goldfein.
Well good morning.
[Crowd] Good morning.
Thanks for that introduction Jay and for those great words. So, madam secretary, fellow airmen, members of our famed Tuskegee Airmen, distinguished guests, cadets, you look good up there. Ladies and gentlemen, what a perfect Colorado morning to celebrate this special day for our Air Force. As we cement the legacy of a pioneer who taught us all the power of perseverance and courage and character and extraordinary competence, from the very beginning of our democracy our nation has worked to expand freedom to everyone based on our fundamental belief that all men and women are created equal. Inalienable rights, it’s the foundation of who we are as Americans as we continue to support and defend this great experiment called democracy. But the road has not been easy and some have had to bare a heavier burden than others to teach us all what right looks like. So today we celebrate one of these men through the naming of this airfield in honor of General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. His story and his legacy of indomitable spirit will forever be enshrined on this airfield and is gonna serve as an inspiration for generations of cadets, just as it has for so many of us who slipped the surly bonds of Earth here for the very first time. For me the airfield was a sanctuary and a place where the dream of a young man and a son of a Vietnam fighter pilot first took flight. Because as I struggled through my first year as a doolie I remember calling my dad and asking if he would loan me the money to get my private pilots license after hearing about the Aero Club from an upperclassmen in my squadron, Starship 19, and dad agreed. Albeit, with a 10% interest on the loan. So I used to sneak over to the airfield on the upper class bus to take flying lessons and after a flight I’d walk across the airfield to the road to hitchhike back to the campus and I’d stop along the way to watch the jump team. So after a few months of this, there was a Senior NCO that came up to me as I watched and asked me my story. I told him I was getting my license at the Aero Club and I dreamed of one day joining the jump team. So he told me if I would just hunker down and get a 2.6 GPA, he’d get me into jump school and we would just sort of see what would happen from there. Well, I got a 2.1. So, in keeping with the practice at the time, those with a 2.6 got to pull their own ripcord and those with not a 2.6 got to do static line with the Army at Fort Benning. Jump team was not in my future but here’s the moral of the story. There’s one jump at Fort Benning that I never forgot, the night mass tactical exit. I remember leaving the aircraft, a C-141 at about 2:00 a.m., with full combat gear on a full moon night and having to work extra hard to steer my parachute away from the trees to a good landing spot and then having to pack my chute and run to the tree line where the buses were waiting. Who knew, 20 years later, almost to the day I’d pull the handle of my F-16 for a full moon night combat jump with full combat gear in enemy territory, steering my chute away from the trees for a safe landing, so I could run to the tree line with enemy in pursuit. I looked up this morning and I found Garth Brooks’s song, Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. So this airfield and the story of General Davis will inspire future leaders to turn their dreams into flight. He took on the barriers of race and discrimination for our military and he opened doors of opportunity for many of our nation’s and our Air Force’s greatest leaders. We’re naming this airfield after a true hero, a man of impeccable character and extraordinary competence and it’s a way to remind all cadets to take heed of his example because our Long Blue Line is filled with airmen who took inspiration from the story of General Davis and I want to tell you just about one. Our guest speaker today, General C.Q. Brown, who was inspired by General Davis and has carried the torch of breaking barriers throughout his career by exemplifying impeccable character and extraordinary competence. First I’ll tell you, C.Q. is one of those pilots like me with an odd number of takeoffs and landings. He earned the call sign Swamp Thing after ejecting over the Florida Everglades when his F-16 was struck by lightning and caught fire. So for the cadets, you need to ask him to tell you that story because it’s more harrowing than mine. C.Q. began his career from humble beginnings. His uncle and his father were the first and second African Americans to be commissioned through the Army ROTC program at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and both retired as colonels. General Brown was the first African American to graduate from the F-16 Weapons School and then later in his career was selected as the commandant where we send our very top, our top 1% of the Air Force for a doctorate in tactics and instruction. He served as aide-de-camp to Chief 15 General Ron Fogleman for nearly two years. When I saw this I thought, maybe I should get my current aide to extend for another year. Rather than return to flying the F-22, Quake, what do you think? C.Q. cut his teeth as a joint war fighter as the first African American Air Force Commander in Central Command after serving as my deputy. Leading and managing the air war against the Islamic State and as then General Mattis famously stated about C.Q., “put him in the war, the enemy will pay.” And now he’s the first African American Commander of our Pacific Air Forces Command and to think, his original plan was only to serve out his ROTC commitment as a Civil Engineering Officer. Instead he followed his dad’s blunt advice, accepting that quote, “four years in the military will not kill you.” C.Q.’s aced the ultimate test of leadership command at multiple levels, he’s combat proven and a true professional that sets the example through his actions, not only for airmen serving today, but for those who will join us in the future. And he’s enjoined by an incredible teammate Sharene by his side. Together they are a powerful example of what right looks like in our Air Force. I’m not only honored to have served with them but also for me and Dawn to call them friends. Because it’s through the examples of General Davis, our Tuskegee Airmen, General Ed Rice, General Flowers, so many others and General Brown, that we stand united in the common belief that impeccable character and extraordinary competence always win. Never forget cadets, the path to this airfield and your future career was paved by these men and women and let your dreams take flight at that airfield. It is my distinct pleasure to introduce to you General C.Q. Brown.
One moment, sometimes that’s all it takes. I’ll share with you about 10 years ago my wife Sharene and I were in a Sunday School class and the discussion and topic that day was on spiritual markers. Those markers are the one moment that, the moment that changes your, you know, defines your relationship, defines your life, defines your career or in some cases changes the course of history. For General Benjamin O. Davis Jr., that moment came when he was 13 years old. That one moment was a flight with a barnstorming pilot and I should tell ya that it sparked a dream. I wanna borrow a quote from Jesse Owens, “we all have dreams, but in order to make dreams “come into reality it takes an awful lot “of determination, dedication, self discipline and effort.” Before I go any further this morning, I’d like to express what an honor it is to be here with you this morning. Madam Secretary, it’s an honor to spend this past week with you on week two of your tenure as our secretary. General Goldfein and Don, I appreciate the very kind words and again, from Sharene and I, it’s an honor to serve with you and to also call you friends. It’s an honor to be sharing today with he family of General Benjamin O. Davis Jr., with the Tuskegee Airmen and in particular, our documented original Tuskegee Airmen. I’ll tell you, this is the third time in the past four months that I’ve been at different events to meet up with documented original Tuskegee Airmen. It’s quite an honor for me and in some cases General Goldfein’s talked about hitting the lottery, for this past several months I’ve hit the lottery, having an opportunity to meet so many documented original Tuskegee Airmen, it’s quite an honor. For the many distinguished guests, with all present today both in person and in spirit. Finally, I want to sincerely thank Lieutenant General Silveria for inviting me to speak today. When I got your email I was truly humbled. We crossed paths coming out of the elevators at the Air Force Association and we started talking about this particular event today and I told Sharene after we left you Tonto that I was getting kinda goosebumps and chills just talking about being here for this very special event. So really I’m very honored and humbled and glad that you asked me to do this. That pursuing his dream Benjamin O. Davis Jr. attended the University of Chicago and then eventually went to West Point. For the four years Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was at West Point he was silenced. In which he never conversed with, ate with or roomed with a fellow cadet. Now I’m an ROTC grad and I’ve heard that it’s kind of tough to go to an academy that’s what people tell me. I really believe that all of us could imagine if you spent four years in any institution and were silenced, that stress level would go up dramatically. Suffice it to say those four years were the first testament to Benjamin O. Davis’s determination and self discipline. They’re also evidence of the dedication he had to realize his dream. Through all that he graduated in the top 50% of his class in 1936 and joined the Long Gray Line. And a fitting tribute to his accomplishment was the quote that was put in the yearbook, The Howitzer, when he graduated and it said, “the courage, tenacity and intelligence “with which he conquered a problem and comparably “more difficult than plebe year won for him “the sincere admiration of his classmates “and his single-minded determination to continue “in his chosen career cannot fail “to inspire respect wherever fortune may lead him.” He applied to the Army Air Corps ’cause he wanted to fly, but at the time, African American applicants were not being accepted. So instead he went into the Infantry and he joined the all African American 24th Infantry Regiment, which is an original Buffalo Soldier Unit. Undeterred, Captain Davis was later, later assigned to Tuskegee University as an instructor and that was were he had his first opportunity to start to realize his dream. When he was selected for the first class to go through Tuskegee Army Airfield. As many of you know he took commanding 99th Fighter Pursuit Squadron, later took command of the 332nd Fighter Group led through North Africa the allied invasion into Sicily and through that time as he commanded the Red Tails as they are known, Colonel Davis went on and with his airmen they flew over 15,000 sorties, shot down 112 aircraft and either damaged or destroyed 273 additional aircraft on the ground. Through all that time in addition to leading those combat operations, Colonel Davis incessantly advocated on the behalf of the units under his command. The Tuskegee Airmen became synonymous with confronting social challenges under combat conditions. A near flawless bomber escort record and leading integration effort within the Department of Defense. General Davis turned his dream into a career barrier breaking first that was described by our narrator this morning, Captain May Smith. I’ll tell you, as a young officer, I was always inspired by General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. and the Tuskegee Airmen and all their accomplishments. It was shortly after I read the autobiography of General Davis, when I was General Fogleman’s aide. That I also had the pleasure to meet Ruth Eaker, the wife of another Air Force legend General Ira Eaker. He was the Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces and General Eaker was a staunch proponent of the 332nd Fighter Group then led by Colonel Benjamin O. Davis Jr. General Eaker’s believed in the 332nd, changed their mission from being a coastal patrol unit to being a fighter escort unit. In 1995 when I was still the aide, Mrs. Eaker passed away and was buried next to her husband at Arlington National Cemetery. With the many distinguished members of the Air Force both active and retired, I had the privilege to attend the funeral as aides do when the Chief of Staff is there also to pay their respects. Of note, at the funeral as well was General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. I noticed as I saw him standing there, he was standing there next to, throughout the funeral there at Arlington, he’s standing right next to one of his West Point classmates. When I saw that it really made me reflect on all that he had accomplished and the silent treatment he endured as a cadet. I reflected on his determination, his dedication, his self discipline in an effort to transform a dream into tangible change. Now I’ll tell you that change provided an opportunity for me and so many others. I would not be standing here today if not for General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. and these men sitting in the front row and all the other Tuskegee Airmen. As I modestly address you today to honor a man that has done so much for our Air Force and our nation, I can not help but think about the significance of renaming the USAFA Airfield. From an airfield came a moment, from a moment evolved a dream, from the spark of a dream a fire of change raged for our profession, for our service and for our nation. Now an airfield named after General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. will write future generations their moment. With determination, dedication, self discipline and effort they too can realize their dream to pursue the career of aviation within our Air Force. Once again, thank you for the invitation to be here today, it is my distinct honor to be part of today’s ceremony and memorialize an Air Force legend General Benjamin O. Davis Jr., a legend who with the Tuskegee Airmen have been an inspiration and so influential to my success. It is now my privilege to introduce Judge L. Scott Melville and Mr. Doug Melville the nephew and great nephew of General Benjamin O. Davis Jr., to provide their remarks. Thank you very much.
We appreciate it.
hank you so much. Good afternoon everyone. I almost teared up here in the beginning I was trying to hold it back. I have no tissues up here so I couldn’t break. I just want to say a few words. The last week of October has always been a special week for our family. 65 years ago this week, nearly 6,000 air miles away, then Colonel Benjamin O. Davis Jr. stood tall, shoulders up, gazing straight ahead in full dress uniform and at 42 years old with over half his life dedicated to service he was being elevated to the rank of General. So it was a crowning achievement for himself and for America, it was a first for our culture. Years earlier in the last week of October his father before him, Benjamin O. Davis Sr., in that week was elevated to the rank of General to become the first General in the United States Army. So it isn’t lost on me that we’re here in the final week of October for this monumental occasion. I am also 42 years old and there’s no way I’m passing basic training. Just to let everybody know, everyone’s job is safe. So, I also look at it as possibly under achieving ’cause I’m no where close to being a General but while he was the cultural trailblazer for this nation publicly, privately he was a trailblazer and helped do so much for his family. He is why I’m here today. Life milestones are how we grow and if it wasn’t for General Davis helping me get my first car at 16 years old, a Honda Accord, okay, getting there, or him giving me my first set of golf clubs and showing me the importance and value of learning how to golf and learning the relationship you have to have on a golf course. How long it would have taken me to achieve those moments or learn those things on my own? But his biggest passion was always education and I still remember clearly as one of the most defining moments that we had together was my graduation from high school. My parents gave me an envelope and they were like this is a special envelope that you’re gonna get so we’re gonna all open it together. And we all gathered around and in there was a blank check and in the memo it said, any college you want. If it wasn’t for him, I just can’t even put into words how my journey would have ended up. Uncle Ben is what I used to call him, he was my North Star in life as he is today in legacy, as a family we’d spend every Thanksgiving together until there was no more Thanksgivings to spend. He was like Mr. Rogers, he was the nicest, sweetest man, I would have never known he had any military accomplishments because he was so loving and joyful and positive that it’s only in life and in time do you realize what people actually did for their country and for the Air Force and their service. At the in-between times he’d stress to me the importance of making the world a better place for those behind us. He would always say, Doug if you can only stand tall by requiring someone else to sit on their knees you are the problem. Generational influence does matter. Today I’m a Chief Diversity Officer, I work in New York City on Madison Avenue and I travel around the world and work with some of the biggest companies to ensure that we have equal representation of women, people of color, in front of the camera and behind the camera in the advertising space and I live under the halo of General Davis and took on this career because of his influence on me. In 2002, on America’s birthday, the 4th of July, General Davis took his final breath in Dwight Eisenhower’s bed at Walter Reed Memorial in his hometown of Washington D.C., and a ceremony meant for a man who dedicated 89 years of his life to equality, a horse drawn carriage pulled him to his final resting spot at Arlington National Cemetery, a place where he will forever be remembered alongside his wife Agatha Scott Davis. With that I would like to introduce my father General Davis’ oldest and closest confidant and relative, at age seven then Colonel Davis and his wife Agatha whom had no kids of their own, partly due to paranoia and anxiety and partly due to the fear that the institution would use having a child against him, brought their nephew into their barracks. They raised him quietly and in confidence for much of his life, rarely if ever mentioning him to others. They loved him, housed him, fed him and raised him until he went off to college and that young boy turned out to become a trailblazer in his own right, becoming one of the first judges of color in the state of Connecticut but most importantly to me, he’s my dad. So I’d like everybody to take a moment and stand on their feet and give a warm welcome to a man, who earlier this week, in the last week of October, celebrated his 86th birthday. On behalf of his family, I’d like to introduce the Honorable L. Scott Melville.
Please be seated. Can you hear me all right? Okay. I get nervous when I speak into the microphone and I want to warn you all, they mic’d me today you see this little broach on my collar here, that’s a microphone, so whatever you do, if you come close to me, watch what you say. (audience laughing) General Silveria and Mrs. Silveria, guests and I don’t want to get into detail, I think there is a Secretary of the Air Force here today and that’s the only dignitary I’m going to speak out for ’cause I don’t want to offend anybody here today. I’m truly honored to be here, to take part in this naming ceremony, however, I’m a bit nervous. I see all of these Generals out here and on top of that, the stress is really stressful here because I’m wearing this thing. But anyway, I’m happy to be here. I am impressed with the campus that I see here, I’m impressed with the student body that I see here. Now when Doug first told me I was expected to speak at this naming ceremony, I was a little upset because I didn’t know what I was gonna say. He gave me some materials to look at and in those materials was some really amazing information. At the beginning of World War II, there were only two black officers in the entire Army. One was Colonel Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and the other was his aide, First Lieutenant Benjamin O. Davis Jr. So, I thought it might be a good place to start today. I’ve also decided that the theme of these remarks would be lessons learned. Now we’re speaking at the Air Force Academy a learning institution, so I thought it might be appropriate for me to make that the theme of my remarks. Ben’s goal in life was to have a career in military just like his father. I still can’t get used to this thing. Can you still hear me? All right, good. Okay, and he still wanted to be like his father in the military, but he wanted more. As a young man, as a teenager, he used to travel with his father to the various postings that his father had and he noticed that his father was always singled out as a black officer and that his service was mainly limited to non-commanding positions. That’s because it was policy in the military at that time that black officers were not allowed to command white officers or for that matter white troops. Ben wanted to change that. He learned early on that demonstration, confrontation or protesting would not work in the military. So he decided on a different strategy. Now that strategy was to lead by example and eventually the others would follow. Although this strategy demanded both patience and perseverance, nevertheless he practiced this strategy from the time he entered West Point to the time he retired from the United States Air Force, some over 35 years. Apparently, his strategy proved to be successful. Now I can speak hours on Ben’s successes but I don’t want to do that, I don’t have enough time. They had a whole schedule here today to tell me how long I could speak but I do want to share with you just one story that illustrates the strategy and the traits that he had for his entire career. As I said, I didn’t know what I was gonna talk about, in the materials that Doug gave me was a picture, an old photograph of Ben that I had in my scrapbook. I have a description of that picture here but I don’t have to give you that description. There it is right there and I said to myself, that picture’s probably worthy of an Air Force recruitment poster. (audience laughing) And maybe a even a Camel cigarette ad, he did smoke Camels you know. I don’t want to talk about Ben’s picture though, I really want to talk about the P-51 that is in the background of that picture and you’ll see what it says on the plane. That’s the name of that plane, By ReQuest, and that seemed odd to me. Because it was commonly, the pilots at that time commonly named their plane after a sweetheart or a wife or a cartoon that was a parody of some event in their life to be painted on their plane. Now many years later, I asked Ben about that unusual nose art and he told me the story about it. He said the story was he wanted to tell me about was how that came together. Ben explained that the nose art was intended to convey a message. Now if you’re a Tuskegee Airman, as I see a bunch of them here today, you know the story I’m about to tell already. Most of you in the audience do not know what that story is and so I’m going to try to recall that story as I best can. Now a little background about that story, circa 1944, Ben commanded the 332nd an all black fighter group known to bomber pilots as the Red Tails. That’s because the pilots of the 332nd had their tales of their planes painted red so that they can be distinguished from the other groups that were flying in the air. Now, by that time the Red Tails had established an envious reputation of not losing any bombers that they escorted to enemy fighters. About the same time, a critically important but dangerous bombing mission over Berlin was planned by the High Command. The other orders were cut and went out to the commanders of the bombers, bombing groups, and to the fighter escorts but the 332nd was not included in that order. At the group briefing session one of the bomber group commanders who was personally familiar with the reputation of the Red Tails, asked why the 332nd wasn’t included and he actually requested that the Red Tails be included in the mission. To make a long story short, the Red Tails were included in that mission and they did not lose a single plane in that mission, a single bomber in that mission, to enemy fighters that day. Shortly after the mission was over Ben’s pilots learned exactly how and why the 332nd was included in the mission. That’s when he had the words By ReQuest painted on the plane, over there. It was his way of sending a subtle message to his pilots that the 332nd pilots were just as skilled in combat as their white counterparts and thereby had earned their respect. Every time his pilots walked down the line they passed Ben’s plane, they were reminded of that message. It was also his way to unobtrusively send the same message to the High Command. That day and the days that follow the myth that blacks were incapable of flying or fighting in combat was destroyed forever by the performance of the men of the 332nd and the leadership of Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Apparently, the message that was too subtle for the Generals to grasp. Well, duh. Since the 332nd remained a segregated unit throughout the war, however the message was not lost on one person, that person only had a high school education and only rose to the rank of Captain in the Army. Now, you history buffs will now who that is, that person was Harry S. Truman. The 33rd President of the United States who with the stroke of his pen, integrated the entire military establishment. As a result, the longstanding policy of racial segregation in the military ended in 1948. So instead of having a few black officers, relegated to teaching military science at the historically black colleges, all branches of the military, led, I might add, by the Air Force, now include men and yes women, of all races, serving in all command positions thanks in part to the leadership of Benjamin O. Davis Jr. and the performance of the Tuskegee Airman. The Tuskegee experiment was a success. Lessons learned. End of story. So, in conclusion, I speak for all of Ben’s living relatives, some of whom are here today, when I say thank you Air Force Academy and all those individuals who were responsible for bestowing this high honor on General Benjamin O. Davis Jr., American, full stop.
Thank you Judge Melville and Mr. Melville. To highlight General Davis’ inspiration of inclusion and impeccable character for generations to come in our Long Blue Line. We will now conduct a generational unveiling of the new airfield sign. At this time we invite the Honorable Barbara Barrett, General Goldfein, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Wright, General Brown, Lieutenant General Silveria, Cadet Wing Commander Cadet First Class Bryant Ashe, Judge L. Scott Melville and Mr. Douglas Melville to come forward for the unveiling of the United States Air Force Academy Airfield sign in honor of General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. All right, at this time I would like to ask Lieutenant General Silveria to come forward to provide closing remarks.
Wow. Truly what a moment for all of us. Let me thank everyone for being here and so many of you that traveled some miles, but I also have to say so many of you also traveled some years and traveled some obstacles to be here. So, thank you very much. I think the challenge for us is that the tenacity and the breakthroughs, the determination that General Davis showed us, I think our challenge for us is that we continue that forward. And I think that’s what this name will remind us every time we drive down Stadium Boulevard and see this amazing sign. It was a rare opportunity today, to celebrate our legacy from World War II all the way through to the cadets that are around here from the classes up to 2023. So thank you very much for everyone, what a wonderful event. Thank you for being here.
Thank you sir. Thank you Lieutenant General Silveria. Ladies and gentleman, please stand for the singing of the first verse of the Air Force song, sung by the Air Force Academy’s Gospel Choir and remain standing for the departure of the official party. ♪ Off we go into the wild blue yonder ♪ ♪ Climbing high into the sun ♪ ♪ Here they come zooming to meet our thunder ♪ ♪ At ’em boys, give ‘er the gun ♪ ♪ Give ‘er the gun ♪ ♪ Down we dive spouting our flame from under ♪ ♪ Off with one helluva roar ♪ ♪ We live in fame or go down in flame, hey ♪ ♪ Nothing will stop the U.S. Air Force ♪