Editor’s note: In honor of African American Heritage Month, Team Scott pays tribute to legends with ties to Scott AFB.
Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., made history in 1975 when he received his fourth star, making him the first African-American general not only in the Air Force, but also across all branches of U.S. military.
Born in Pensacola, Fla., on Feb. 11, 1920, James graduated from Washington High School in June 1937 and then attended and then taught at the Tuskegee Institute as one of the renowned “Tuskegee Airmen.”
He received his bachelor’s degree under the government-sponsored Civilian Pilot Training program, and remained a civilian instructor pilot in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet program until he received his commission as a second lieutenant in July 1943.
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During WWII he spent most of his time training other pilots in the 99th Pursuit Squadron, and during the Korean War he flew 100 combat missions where he earned the Distinguished Service Medal.
James retired in 1978 and passed away in February the same year. Scott AFB named one of the gyms, formerly referred to as “the new gym” to the James Sports Center in 1979 to honor the memory his hard work and dedication to the Air Force.
During Vietnam he flew 75 combat missions including the infamous Operation BOLO mission where seven communist MiG-21 aircraft were destroyed. Operation BOLO was a deception-based mission intended to trick enemy fighter aircraft into battle where American fighters held the advantage.
This operation pitted the U.S. F-4 Phantom II against the MiG-21 and, because of this operation, the enemy re-evaluated their MiG-21 strategy and deployment.
During the course of his career, he served as vice commander of then-Military Airlift Command, headquartered at Scott Air Force Base in 1974. Just after becoming vice commander of MAC, the MAC consolidated Tactical Air Command’s airlift resources which increased the number of planes, personnel and other resources under MAC’s control which meant more responsibility for the command.
During James’ time as MAC vice commander, the MAC carried out operations New Life and Baby Lift. These two operations airlifted 31,155 Vietnamese refugees to the Philippines and Guam, and 1,794 Vietnamese and Cambodian orphans to the continental U.S.
James retired in 1978 and passed away in February the same year. Scott AFB named one of the gyms, formerly referred to as “the new gym” to the James Sports Center in 1979 to honor the memory of his hard work and dedication to the Air Force.
375th Air Mobility Wing Historian Erin Lasley contributed to this story