WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — Often times our destiny is unknown to us as we embark upon the journey of life. The key to discovering our destiny is living life “undaunted.” An undaunted life is one that represents tenacity, drive, optimism, hope, and determination, to name a few. We should not give up on our dreams, even in the face of the greatest obstacles.
One person who epitomized an undaunted life is retired Air Force Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. His father was a military officer and the first general of African descent in the Army, Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Sr., a former Buffalo Soldier and war veteran of the Spanish-American War and World War I.
Davis Jr. grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and had the privilege to receive an incentive flight at Bolling Field when he was a young teen. That flight opened up a world of dreams in the younger Davis. Unfortunately, he would have to cross some hurdles to get there. Davis Jr. had to face the reality of social constraints during his formative years.
Intent on pursuing his dream of flying as a military pilot, Davis Jr. attended West Point Military Academy. It was there he realized if he were to reach his goals, he had to have incredible resolve. He was isolated and faced many obstacles during his time at West Point. His classmates did not speak to him during the four years of school, except when necessary for the line of duty. Undaunted, Davis Jr. graduated in 1936, ranked 35th out of 278, despite the challenges.
When Davis Jr. received his commission, he was not allowed to fly initially because those of African descent were not permitted at the time. Thus he was assigned to the infantry in the Army. As fate would have it, the Roosevelt administration was pressured to allow greater participation by those of African descent during World War II. In 1942, Davis Jr. was assigned to Tuskegee Army Air Field, Alabama, and was a part of experiential training in the first class to determine if in fact those of African descent could actually fly an aircraft.
Not surprisingly, Davis Jr. became the first person of African descent to make a solo flight in an Army Air Corps plane. He was quickly promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and in August 1942 he was assigned as the commander of the 99th Fighter Squadron, one of eight flying squadrons that would become famously known as the Tuskegee Airmen. After fighting in combat during World War II in Germany and in Sicily, Davis Jr. was reassigned to the 332nd Fighter Group as commander, composed entirely of Tuskegee Airmen.
The Tuskegee Airmen, led by Davis Jr., through exceptional performance during the war as fighter escorts for bombers, demonstrated that, indeed, if you were of African descent, you had the intellect and capacity to fly, fight, and win! Davis Jr. went on to reach many firsts and serve our nation in the highest leadership positions with honor, breaking many barriers. Davis Jr. retired in 1970 as a lieutenant general after 33 years of dedicated service to our nation through three wars. In 1998, President Bill Clinton promoted him to the rank of four-star.
Perhaps we can learn from Davis Jr. how to not give up and to live life undaunted. Every challenge and event in our lives shapes our future. Like Davis Jr., we may not know our destiny, but if we stay resilient, remain undaunted, we may reach heights that we never dreamed possible. We must never doubt what we bring to the fight every day as we move into the future in uncharted territory. We cannot accept the impossible, but find a way to build an agile and innovative workforce.
I conclude with the words of President Clinton when he promoted Davis Jr. to the rank of four stars, “General Davis is living proof that a person can overcome adversity and discrimination, achieve great things, turn skeptics into believers, through example and perseverance, one person can bring truly extraordinary change.”