Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Celebrating Memorial Day in Honor of Those Who Lead the Troops
By Yussuf J. Simmonds (Managing Editor)
Published May 30, 2011

General Colin L. Powell


Brigadier Benjamin O. Davis, Sr.

General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.

General Daniel “Chappie” James

Brigadier General Hazel Johnson-Brown

Admiral Michelle J. Howard

Lt. General Frank E. Petersen Jr.

Admiral Samuel L. Gravely, Jr.


Admiral Lillian E. Fishburne

Admiral David L. Brewer III


By Yussuf J. Simmonds
The Generals

“They stood on the shoulders of many including the Buffalo soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen”

When the names of Black generals of the United States military are discussed, the names that mostly come to mind are Brigadier General O. Davis, Sr., the first African American general in the United States Army; General Daniel “Chappie” James, the first African American, four-star general in the U.S. Army; and General Colin L. Powell, the first African American to be appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (The title of general in the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps is equivalent in rank admiral in the Navy). However, since the dark days of the Buffalo soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen, and the signing of Executive Order 9981 which outlawed discrimination and segregation in the U.S. military, there have been many generals and “sub” generals that have dotted the military landscape including major generals, rear admirals, lieutenant generals and so on. The following are a few of the heroes and “sheroes” in unform.

Not only did General Colin L. Powell achieved the highest position in the military – the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – he also achieved one of the highest positions in government as a civilian; he was the 65th Secretary of State of the U.S. His parents were Jamaican immigrants and he grew up in the Bronx, New York. Just after earning a bachelor’s degree at City College of New York, Powell joined the Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and later described it as one of the happiest experiences of his life, where he received a commission as a second lieutenant. He was one of the military advisors sent to South Vietnam in 1962, the same year he married Alma Johnson. From being an advisor, it evolved into a tour of duty for which he earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

After a second tour in Vietnam, where he was wounded after rescuing fellow soldiers from a burning helicopter, Powell received the Soldier’s Medal. He received 11 military decorations in all including the Legion of Merit and went on to earn an MBA at George Washington University just before being promoted to Major. Powell was a professional soldier for 35 years and held numerous assignments in several administrations including the Office of Management and Budget (Nixon); National Security Advisor (Reagan) at 49, and was then promoted to the rank of general at 52 by President George H. W. Bush.

General Powell served as commander-in-chief of the Army’s Forces Command overseeing the Army, Army Reserve, and National Guard in the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. His last military position was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Clinton where he managed the invasion of Panama and the Persian Gulf War. Though a soldier, he was usually reluctant to use or advocate military force choosing instead diplomacy, thus earning the nickname “the reluctant warrior.”

According to his biographer, Benjamin O. Davis Sr. gave incorrect information about his age – stating that he was older than he really was – in order to be accepted in the military service because he knew his parents would not have given him their permission. His service dated back to the time of the original Buffalo soldiers and he moved up through the ranks even though most of the time he had been in charge of “colored” troops. After his initial deployment as a private in the 9th Cavalry Regiment 1898, he left the service to attend Howard University.

Returning to the army, Davis mounted the military ladder from Spanish-American War through World Wars I and II. In 1948, he retired after 50 years of service having received the Distinguished Service Medal, the Bronze Star, the French Croix de Guerre and the Star of Africa. But his greatest achievement was his pride in having a son following his footsteps in the military and destined to surpass his father. General Davis died in 1970 at the age of 93 and was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., was the son of General Davis, Sr. who pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross as Colonel Davis, Jr. after he had commanded the 332nd Pursuit Squadron of the Tuskegee Airmen on a successful bombing raid of a German installation during World War II. Born in the military, young Davis traveled throughout the country with his soldier father and was well prepared for a career in the military. He literally stood on his father’s shoulders and followed his footsteps through his military career and was uniquely prepared physically (6′-2″) and mentally (a keen mind) when he entered West Point Military Academy. He also earned the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Croix de Guerre and the Star of Africa. In 1945, Davis, Jr. was the first Black man to command an air base and did so in Formosa, Germany and Korea where he was the chief of staff for the United Nations Command. He retired from active duty in 1970 however, in 1998 he was appointed the first Black general in the U.S. Air Force. He died in 2002 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. 

Daniel “Chappie” James was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. After graduating from high school, James attended Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) where he completed the civilian pilot training in 1942 and was commissioned the following a second lieutenant and trained pilots of the 99th Pursuit Squadron. Later on, he was a flight leader and during the Korean War, he flew 101 missions in P-51 Mustang and F-80 aircrafts. On returning to the U.S., he was promoted to Major and became the commander of the 437th Fighter Interceptor.

James attended the Air Command-Staff School in 1957 and was stationed in England and Arizona until he went to Vietnam where he flew 78 combat missions. He was then promoted to Colonel and in rapid succession to Brigadier General, was named base commander of Wheelus Air Force Base in Libya. In 1970, he became Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and in 1974, with the rank of Lieutenant General, he became Vice Commander of the Military Airlift Command. The following year, James became the first Black to become a 4-star General. At that time he was named Commander of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), with responsibility for all aspects of the air defense of the United States and Canada.

During his career, he received many military and civilian awards including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and the Distinguished Flying Cross. General James died at age 58, three weeks after his retirement from the Air Force, and was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

General James’s son, Lieutenant General Daniel James III also served in the United States Air Force and in the Texas Air National Guard. In the latter, he was the first African American to serve as the Adjutant General of the Texas National Guard and as Director of the Air National Guard from 2002 to 2006. He retired from the United States Air Force after 38 years of service, on active duty and as an Air Guardsman, at the rank of Lieutenant General.

Hazel W. Johnson-Brown capped a distinguished career in 1979 when she became the first Black woman to become a brigadier general in the U.S. Army. She served in the Army Nurse Corps for 26 years including posts as a staff nurse in Japan; chief nurse in Korea; assistant Dean of the University of Maryland School of Nursing; and director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing. Johnson-Brown is also professor of Nursing emerita and as brigadier general, she was the 16th chief of the Army Nurse Corps.

Michelle J. Howard was the first Black woman to command a U.S. Navy Ship in a long line of “firsts” as a Black woman. Born to an Air Force master sergeant, she graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and became the first woman admiral from that academy. Howard also has a Master’s Degree in Military Arts and Sciences from the Army’s Command and General Staff College. Her initial naval tours were aboard the USS Huntley and the USS Lexington. While aboard the latter, Howard received the Navy League Captain Collins Award for outstanding leadership. She served as chief engineer on the USS Mount Hood during the Persian Gulf War. In 2006, she was selected as a Rear Admiral (lower half), followed by an appointment as deputy director, Expeditionary Warfare Division. In 2009, Howard became a Rear Admiral (upper half) as commander of the Expeditionary Strike Group Two.

Frank E. Petersen Jr. retired from the U.S. Marine Corps as a Lieutenant General after 38 years of service as `the senior ranking aviator in the Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy with the titles of “Silver Hawk” and “Gray Eagle.” He was the first African-American Marine Corps aviator and the first African-American Marine Corps general. He started in the Navy in 1950 as a seaman apprentice and then became an electronics technician before graduating from the Naval Aviation Cadet Program as a second lieutenant.

Petersen served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars with the Marine Fighter Squadron 212 and flew over 350 combat missions. After serving in various command positions in Marine Corps aviation, he was promoted to Brigadier General in 1979. He was advanced to Major General in 1983 and to Lieutenant General in 1986 where he served as Commanding General, Combat Development Command and as Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff. He received the Distinguished Service Medal prior to his retirement.

As the first Black man to become an admiral, Samuel Lee Gravely, Jr. was a pioneer in the U.S. Navy. He was the first African American in the U.S. Navy to be commissioned an officer, the first to serve aboard a fighting ship as an officer, the first to command a Navy ship and the first fleet commander. He spent much of his life as a pioneer blazing the trail for others. Starting at Virginia Union University, he was a member of the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African Americans before enlisting in the Naval Reserves in 1942, where he began as a Fireman Apprentice. The following year, he participated in the Navy’s officers training program attending the University of California in Los Angeles, Pre-Midshipman School in New Jersey, and Midshipmen School at Columbia University. In 1944, Gravely successfully completed his training, becoming the first African American to be commissioned from the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. He retired in 1980 and died at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, in 2004. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Lillian E. Fishburne was commissioned an ensign after graduating from the Women Officers School at Newport, Rhode Island in 1973. She was assigned as the Personnel and Legal Officer at the Naval Air Test Facility and then to the Navy Recruiting District as a recruiter. After receiving her Masters Degree in Management in 1980, Fishburne was placed as the officer in charge of the Naval Telecommunications Center, Great Lakes, Illinois. This led her to the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, where she earned a masters degree in Telecommunications Systems Management.

Her naval training was centered on computers and the communications systems, and her assignments reflected that training. Throughout her career, she was assigned to the Command, Control, Communications Directorate of Naval Operations; Joint Allied Command and Control Matters Branch; the Naval Communication Station, Japan; and the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station, Florida. Next she then graduated from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in 1993 and was assigned the following year to the Joint Staff in Washington, D.C. as Chief, Command, Control Systems Support Division. Four years later, Fishburne became the first Black woman in the Navy to become Rear Admiral. She has received the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal and the Navy Achievement Medal. Fishburne retired in 2001.

David L. Brewer, III was the vice chief of Naval Education and Training, and when he left the military, he was appointed superintendent of the Los Angeles School District (LAUSD). Brewer began his naval career as an Ensign, having graduated in the first Naval ROTC unit at Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black University. Brewer methodically moved through the ranks of the Navy in an array of assignments including Electronics Warfare Officer, Combat Information Center Officer, Weapons Officer and Engineering Officer, and has commanded the USS Bristol County, USS Mt. Whitney and has earned numerous awards. As Rear Admiral, he was commander of U.S. Naval Forces Marianas, Guam, Micronesia and Palau; then commander of Group THREE. He recently resigned as superintendent of the LAUSD.

Major General Charles Frank “Charlie” Bolden, Jr., USMC (retired), (born August 19, 1946 in Columbia, South Carolina) is a retired U.S. Marine Corps major general who served from 1981 to 1994 as an astronaut in the United States’ space program. A 1968 graduate of the United States Naval Academy (USNA), he became a Marine Aviator and test pilot. After his service with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, he became Deputy Commandant of Midshipmen at the USNA. Bolden is the virtual host of the Shuttle Launch Experience attraction at Kennedy Space Center.[1] In early January 2009 some speculation arose that Barack Obama may name Bolden as NASA Administrator to replace Michael D. Griffin.


Categories: Legends

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