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Pioneering Tuskeegee Airman laid to rest in Arlington

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (July 17, 2002) -- Friends, family, military and retired military, gathered today to pay tribute to and to lay to rest an Air Force pioneer.

Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the first African-American Air Force general officer, was remembered with a memorial service today at the Bolling Air Force Base Chapel here. After the ceremony, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Davis, 89, died July 4 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

As the memorial began, the Bolling chapel teemed with the red jackets worn by many former Tuskeegee Airmen. The Tuskeegee Airmen made up the segregated, all African-American Army-Air Corps fighter and bomber units that served flawlessly during World War II; Davis had been their commander.

Dr. Alan Gropman, Chairman, Grand Strategy Department, National Defense University, delivered the eulogy to those gathered.

“Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. is an American hero,” said Gropman. “We call those who demonstrate physical courage heroes because they risk their lives for something bigger than themselves.

“Gen. Davis risked his life for his nation, for his people and also for his country. He believed all his adult life in racial integration and thought he could bring this essential reform to America once World War II began. If he demonstrated blacks could fly and fight and lead with the same skill and courage as whites, a notion foreign to white America of 1941, he believed he could destroy the myth of racial inferiority.

“The Tuskeegee Airman shared his vision and courage, and he and they succeeded.”

Davis’ nephew, Judge L. Scott Melville, spoke on the attributes of respect, dignity and honor, and how Davis worked to earn them.

“Black men, brown men, yellow men, red men and women of all colors could not acquire those attributes through birth, they had to earn them,” said Melville.

“Ben understood these rules of the American politics, and he was determined to overcome them. Not by demonstrating, not by denouncing, not by complaining, not by whining, but by succeeding. He was determined to succeed. This is what motivated him. He tried to instill in each of his officers the need to show by example that they were just as good as anybody else, and maybe even better.”

Following the memorial service, Davis’ body was taken to Arlington National Cemetery.

As is military tradition for those who’ve achieved such rank as Davis, a horse pulled his casket on a carriage, called a caisson, to the gravesite. Former members of the Tuskeegee Airmen served as honorary pall bearers.

During the Arlington service, the spit and polish Air Force honor guard rendered the traditional courtesies to the hero passed, a cannon salute, the lone bugler and the passing of the military burial flag to the next of kin.

Davis’ memory was also honored with a heritage flyover, including a Tuskeegee Airman P-51, F-16s and F-15s. Military pilots followed off with execution of the missing man formation, traditionally reserved for military aviators killed in the line of duty.

Davis is survived by his sister, Elnora D. McLendon, and by many nieces and nephews.