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Pioneering Tuskegee Airman Laid to Rest in Arlington

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

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

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

Alan Gropman, chairman of the Grand Strategy Department at National Defense University here, delivered the eulogy. Many of those in attendance wore the distinctive red jackets of the Tuskegee Airmen -- members of the units Davis commanded during and after World War II.

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

"General Davis risked his life for his nation and for his people. 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 Tuskegee 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," Melville said. "Ben understood these rules of 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."

At Arlington National Cemetery, as is military tradition, a horse pulled Davis' casket on a caisson to the gravesite. Tuskegee Airmen served as honorary pallbearers.

During the Arlington service, the Air Force honor guard rendered the time-honored courtesies to a hero passed: a cannon salute, a lone bugler playing taps and the passing of the American flag to the next of kin.

Davis' memory was also honored with a heritage flyover, including a vintage P-51 Mustang painted in the Tuskegee Airmen's flying colors, F-16 Fighting Falcons and F-15 Eagles. The fliers paid tribute to their fallen comrade and leader with a missing man formation, traditionally reserved for military aviators killed in the line of duty.

Davis' survivors include his sister, Elnora D. McLendon, and many nieces and nephews.

(Retransmitted from Air Force Print News, Arlington, Va.)

 

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA heritage flight consisting of two P-51 Mustang fighters (center), an F-16 (left) and an F-15 pay tribute to Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. during his full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C., on July 17, 2002. Davis died July 4 at age 89. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Varhegyi, USAF.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Air Force Honor Guard body bearers carry the remains of Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. during his full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C., on July 17, 2002. Davis died July 4 at age 89. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Varhegyi, USAF.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageGen. Lester L. Lyles, commander of Air Force Material Command, presents the flag that draped the coffin of Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. to Davis' sister Elnora McLendon during his full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C., on July 17, 2002. Davis died July 4 at age 89. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Varhegyi, USAF.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageChief Master Sgt. William Greene, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard superintendent, watches over the remains of Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. as members of the original class of Tuskegee Airmen pay tribute to Davis at his full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C. on July 17, 2002. Davis died July 4 at age 89. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Varhegyi, USAF.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageGen. Lester L. Lyles, commander of Air Force Material Command, presents the American flag that draped the coffin of Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. to Davis' sister Elnora McLendon during his full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C., on July 17, 2002. Davis died July 4 at age 89. Photo by Staff Sgt. Jennifer Gangemi, USAF.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Air Force Honor Guard body bearers escort the remains of Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. during his full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C., on July 17, 2002. Davis died July 4 at age 89. Photo by Staff Sgt. Jennifer Gangemi, USAF.  
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