Promotion pictures of General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. with President William J. Clinton:
Wearing the trademark red blazer of the Tuskegee Airmen, President William J. Clinton (left) and Elnora Davis McLendon (right) pin the fourth star on the epaulets of retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Benjamin O. Davis in a White House ceremony on Dec. 9, 1998. Davis commanded the heroic Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Officially the 99th Pursuit Squadron and later, the 332nd Fighter Group, the Tuskegee Airmen were all black aircrews trained in Tuskegee, Alabama. Flying in their red-tailed P-51 Mustang fighters, Davis and his men never lost a bomber to the enemy in hundreds of escort missions over Europe. McLendon is the sister of Davis. DoD photo by Helene Stikkel. (Released)
December 10, 1998 / From Associated Press
WASHINGTON — With a beaming group of Tuskegee Airmen looking on, President Clinton made a four-star general of their commander, Benjamin O. Davis Jr., whose audacity and heroism helped open doors for blacks in the armed forces.
“He earned this honor a long time ago,” Clinton said.
Davis, 85, stood straight and stern in his blue Air Force uniform while his sister, Elnora Davis McLendon, joined Clinton in pinning on his fourth star Wednesday at a White House ceremony.
“I’m extremely proud to have been a member of the United States Air Force,” Davis said. “I will not make a speech, but I say to you, ladies and gentlemen, that all of us owe great thanks to the United States Air Force for its contributions.”
The heavily decorated command pilot drew long applause from a crowd that ranged from enlisted airmen to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.
“Your patriotism and love of country was deeper than the racism that was all around you,” Cohen said. “You, sir, are among the rarest souls.”
Clinton praised Davis as “a hero in war, a leader in peace, a pioneer for freedom, opportunity and basic human dignity” who withstood withering discrimination to blaze a trail for other black Americans.
In return, Clinton was made an honorary Tuskegee Airman.
Davis’ new designation is largely ceremonial and does not give him any additional pension or benefits.
Davis listened stoically, his hands on his knees, while a military aide read the order that promoted him, and his Tuskegee pilots, who never lost a U.S. bomber to enemy action in 200 missions, lavished praise on him.
“I salute you, sir, for standing up in the firestorm of racial prejudice and never losing sight of the fact that this country is as much ours as anybody else’s,” said retired Air Force Col. William A. Campbell, who was among the first group of pilots Davis commanded.
Davis received his fourth star 28 years after he retired and 100 years after his father, Benjamin O. Davis Sr., America’s first black brigadier general, joined the Army.
There are 33 four-star generals on active military duty. Three are black: one each in the Army, Navy and Air Force.