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Daniel "Chappie" James Jr. (11 February 1920 - 25 February 1978) was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, who in 1975 became the first African American to reach the rank of four star General.
Daniel James was born in 1920, in Pensacola, Florida, where he graduated from Washington High School in June 1937. From September 1937 to March 1942, he attended Tuskegee Institute, where he received a bachelor of science degree in physical education and completed civilian pilot training under the government-sponsored Civilian Pilot Training Program.
Chappie won his wings and a commission in 1943 but did not see combat in World War II. He remained at Tuskegee as an instructor pilot in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program.
In September 1949, General James went to 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 F-51 and F-80 aircraft.
General James returned to the United States and, in July 1951, went to Otis Air Force Base, 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 FIS and, in August 1955, he assumed command of the 60th FIS. While stationed at Otis, he received the Massachusetts Junior Chamber of Commerce 1954 award of "Young Man of the Year" for his outstanding community relations efforts. He graduated from the Air Command and Staff College in June 1957.
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 4453nd Combat Crew Training Wing.
General Daniel "Chappie" James, Jr. in front of his McDonnell-Douglas F-4C Phantom in Thailand during the Vietnam War.
James went to Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand in December 1966, 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. While stationed at Eglin, the Florida State Jaycees named General James as Florida's "Outstanding American of the Year" for 1969, and he received the Jaycee Distinguished Service Award. He was transferred to Wheelus Air Base in the Libyan Arab Republic in August 1969 as Commander of the 7272nd Fighter Training Wing.
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. He was awarded the George Washington Freedom Foundation Medal in 1967 and again in 1968. He received the Arnold Air Society Eugene M. Zuckert Award in 1970 for outstanding contributions to Air Force professionalism. His citation read "... fighter pilot with a magnificent record, public speaker, and eloquent spokesman for the American Dream we so rarely achieve."
Other civilian awards that General James received included the following: 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. He was named honorary national commander, Arnold Air Society in 1971.
General James died of a heart attack in February 1978 at the age of fifty-eight, less than a month after retiring from the Air Force.
General James's son, Lieutenant General Daniel James III also served in the United States Air Force and in the Texas Air National Guard. He served from 1995 to 2002 as the Adjutant General of the Texas National Guard (the first African American to hold the post), and as Director of the Air National Guard from 2002 to 2006. In the summer of 2006 he retired from the United States Air Force after 38 years of total commissioned service, on active duty and as an Air Guardsman, at the rank of Lieutenant General.