I had the honor of meeting General James when I was an AFROTC cadet at Baylor University in the fall of 1973. I was selected to be one of his escorts, when he was invited to be our guest speaker at our fall dining out. I remember him as a man of great physical stature and an eloquent speaker who had no problem commanding the attention of my fellow cadets and of our invited guests. His message was about leadership and the opportunities afforded him as a military officer. Later that night my roommate John White and I drove General James to his waiting T-39, where we said our goodbyes, thanked him again, saluted, and wished him a safe journey home. Years later I was saddened to hear of his passing. Looking back, I fondly remember him as a patriot, a warrior, and an inspirational leader with a particular preference for Tanqueray Gin, his drink of choice.
So in more detail, who was General Daniel "Chappie" James, Jr.? He was a Tuskegee Airman and the first African-American Four Star General in the United States Armed Forces. He joined the Army Air Force at a time when blacks were only allowed to work as laborers and cooks. At his childhood home near Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla., James often dreamed of flying for the Navy, but at the time none of the military branches allowed blacks to become pilots. He often told the story of when he was a young man, a naval officer ordered him to move to the back of the bus so he could sit down. James later said in a speech at Morehouse College in Atlanta that he did as he was told, but said he felt ashamed of himself and vowed to never let anyone or anything stand in his way again.
After completing college at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he became an instructor with the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program. When the Army considered training blacks as pilots, James resigned his civilian post and entered the program as a student. He later graduated first in his class and received a commission as a second lieutenant. He next completed fighter pilot combat training at Selfridge Field, Mich., and was assigned to various units in the United States for the next six years.
Afterwards, his early career included assignments in the Philippines as flight leader for the 12th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 18th Fighter Wing, at Clark Field. In July 1950, he left for Korea where he flew 101 combat missions in P-51 Mustang and F-80 aircraft. Later, General James returned to the United States and, in July 1951, went to Otis Air Force Base, in Massachusetts as an all-weather jet fighter pilot with the 58th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron and later became operations officer. In April 1953, he became commander of the 437th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron and, in August 1955, he assumed command of the 60th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron.
General James next was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Force as a staff officer in the Air Defense Division of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations. In July 1960, he was transferred to the Royal Air Force Bentwaters in England, where he served successively as assistant director of operations and then director of operations, 81st Tactical Fighter Wing; commander, 92nd Tactical Fighter Squadron; and deputy commander for operations for the 81st Wing. In September 1964, General James was transferred to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, where he was director of operations training and later deputy commander for operations for the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Wing.
In December 1986 he was assigned to the Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand as deputy commander for operations, 8th TFW, and in June 1967 was named wing vice commander, under Colonel Robin Olds, a triple ace. Both in their mid-40's, they formed a legendary team nicknamed "Blackman and Robin." James flew 78 combat missions into North Vietnam, many in the Hanoi/Haiphong area, and led a flight in the "Operation Bolo" Mig sweep in which seven Communist Mig-21's were destroyed, the highest total kill of any mission during the Vietnam War.
He was named vice commander of the 33d TFW at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in December 1967. Later, he was transferred to Wheelus Air Base in the Libyan Arab Republic in August 1969 as Commander of the 7272nd Fighter Training Wing (see additional note below).
General James became deputy assistant secretary of defense (public affairs) in March 1970 and was designated principal deputy assistant secretary of defense (public affairs) in April 1973. He assumed duty as vice commander of the Military Airlift Command, with headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, on September 1, 1974.
General James was promoted to four-star grade and assigned as commander in chief, NORAD/ADCOM, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, on September 1, 1975. In these dual capacities, he had operational command of all United States and Canadian strategic aerospace defense forces. He assumed duty as special assistant to the chief of staff, U.S. Air Force on December 6, 1977.
General James was widely known for his speeches on Americanism and patriotism for which he was editorialized in numerous national and international publications. Excerpts from some of the speeches have been read into the Congressional Record.
Additional Note: A TROA article by J.D. Haines in Retired Officer Magazine, February 2001, described the following events which occurred at Wheelus AFB, Tripoli, in October 1969:
On Oct. 18, 1969, just six weeks after Col. Muammar Gaddafi of the Libyan Army had led a coup deposing Libyas King Idris, he stood at the gates of Wheelus Air Force Base. Facing him was an American officer, also a colonel, named Daniel Chappie James Jr. However, any similarity between the two men ended with their military rank. Before the coup, 27-year old Gadhafi had been a mere lieutenant in the Libyan Army. As leader and chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Gadhafi was catapulted to Colonel overnight. In contrast, James, an African American officer, earned his rank the hard way by overcoming racial prejudices and enduring air battles in Korea and Vietnam.
Few Americans recall the day that James faced down Gadhafi. The confrontation occurred when Gadhafi ordered a column of Libyan half-tracks onto Wheelus. The half-tracks blew past the gate guards and through the housing area at top speed.
When James was notified of the intrusion, he came immediately to the front gate and lowered the barrier to prevent more vehicles from entering. Standing a few yards beyond the barrier was Gadhafi with his hand resting on the butt of his pistol. James glared at him, his own .45 ready at his side.
Move your hand away from that gun, James ordered. Much to everyone’s surprise, Gadhafi complied and probably prevented an early end to his dictatorship. As James later recalled, If he had pulled that gun, it never would have cleared his holster. As if to punctuate the impression James had made, the Libyan Army didn’t send any more half-tracks after that incident.
Previously in July 1969, while James was at Wheelus AFB, he displayed an example of his diplomatic talents. Americas relations with Libya had continued to slide downhill as Gadhafi pressured the U. S. Government to withdraw its military presence. But the Libyans wanted the Americans to leave behind expensive technical equipment to keep the base running. The Americans resisted and planned to remove the material from the base. A serious confrontation almost took place when several Libyan colonels demanded an audience with James.
James invited the officers to his home to discuss the issue of the base equipment. Tensions were already high as the Libyans entered James living room. As the Libyan officers sat down, their driver entered the room carrying a submachine gun. James immediately glowered at the Libyan officers. I’m going to count to three, he said, and if that man is not out of my living room by that time, I will physically throw him out. The driver made a hasty retreat.
General James thank you for your service! Cheers!
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