Classmates didn’t speak to Davis when he was a West Point cadet
By Frederick H. Lowe
The United States Military Academy is erecting cadet barracks that will be named in honor of Four-Star General Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the fourth African-American and the first in the 20th century to graduate from West Point.
The barracks, which will house 650 cadets, is scheduled to open some time in 2016, a West Point spokesperson tells NorthStar News Today.com. The barracks will be centrally located at the USMA.
Davis, a native of Washington, D.C., was appointed to the United States Military Academy by U.S. Rep. Oscar De Priest (R., Ill.), the only black member of Congress and the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives outside the South.
De Priest’s congressional district included Chicago, and he appointed Davis Jr. to the United States Military Academy when the U.S. Army had only one line officer. That was Davis’s father, Benjamin O. Davis Sr. who was promoted to Brigadier General on Oct. 25, 1940, making him the first African American to attain the rank.
Davis entered the United States Military Academy in 1932. His four years there were painfully difficult. The staff, faculty and his fellow cadets refused to speak to him unless it was necessary to conduct official business. No one at the academy befriended him.
He ate alone and while the other cadets shared living spaces with roommates, he lived separately and
alone. The white cadets refused to walk next to him to football games.
Their goal was to drive him out the United States Military Academy. One of the cadets who gave Davis the silent treatment was William C. Westmoreland. He would later become a Four-Star General and commander of the U.S. military operations in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968. Westmoreland’s ancestors were members of the Confederate Army.
“My father taught me to be strong. He had endured adversity and so could I,” Davis wrote in autobiography, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., American: An Autobiography. Visits nearly every Saturday from his girlfriend and future wife, Agatha Scott, helped Davis complete his education at West Point. He graduated 35th in his class of 276 in 1936.
Davis wanted to enter aviation, but due to segregation, he had to wait until 1941 to be accepted as one of the first Tuskegee Airmen, earning aviation wings a year later. The U.S. Air Force was a branch of the U.S. Army until September 18, 1947.
During World War II, he served as a lieutenant colonel, commanding the 99th Pursuit Squadron, flying P40 Warhawks. Davis was later promoted to full colonel and he commanded the 332nd Fighter Group, known as the legendary “Red Tails,” flying P-51 Mustangs, and P-47 Thunderbolts. Davis and his fighter group escorted bombers on 200 air-combat missions over Europe, flying into the teeth of Nazi Luftwaffe.
Davis was awarded the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Force Medal for meritorious service and gallantry. He transferred from the U.S.
Army to the U.S. Air Force in 1947.
Davis commanded the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing in Korea and as a lieutenant general, he became the 13th Air Force Commander at Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
He retired from the Air Force in 1970 as a Lieutenant General. On December 9, 1988, President Bill Clinton awarded him his fourth star. Davis died July 4, 2002, at the age of 89 from Alzheimer’s disease at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
“It is particularly fitting that today, on the 213th anniversary of the founding of the academy that we make this announcement and pay tribute to his demonstrated acts of perseverance, courage and humility throughout a lifetime of selfless service to the nation,” said Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, superintendent of the United States Military Academy on March 16.