A Tale of Two Black Heroes – General Benjamin O Davis, Jr And Dorie Miller – Black History Month
The new movie “Red Tails’” is a story that a lot of Blacks have been waiting to watch on the big screen. This is the story about the Tuskegee Airmen, an All-Black squadron of fighter pilots dedicated to escorting and defending U.S. bombers during World War II. The squadron members encountered bigotry at nearly every turn but they persevered and have become a legend in the military services, even if they are only famous within a small scope.
On the list of great heroes from the film is General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., among the initial Blacks to fly within the Army Air Corps, but also the first leader of the 99th Pursuit Squadron. Davis is a fascinating story of achievement, the 1st Black to graduate from the U. S. Military Academy. During his time there, he was ignored by his classmates who refused to communicate with him outside of the call of duty. Nevertheless, he finished near the top of his class, getting his commission as an officer. Interestingly, he became only the second active combat officer at that time, the other one being his father Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. (who would become the first Black General in the United States Army).
Benjamin, Jr. wasn’t allowed to start flying immediately in that the Army Air Corps was segregated and there weren’t any Black squadrons. After teaching military tactical classes at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, Davis was assigned to train at Tuskegee field and was the first Black pilot to make a solo flight in an Army Air Corps plane. Subsequently he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was sent to head up the 99th Pursuit Squadron whom society would know as the Tuskegee Airmen.
When racist attitudes throughout the top ranks in the Army Air Corps aimed to scuttle the Black flying squadron, Davis fought back, arguing on behalf of his pilots in presentations at the Pentagon. Ultimately, the Army found that the Red Tails squadron had performed at the same levels as their white counterparts and the Tuskegee Airmen were allowed to continue to fly, turning out to be one of the favored bomber escorts during the war.
Davis would continue to advance in the ranks of the Air Force, eventually turning out to be the 1st Black Air Force General.
On the flip side of this story is Doris “Dorie” Miller. Miller was actually a cook onboard the USS West Virginia on December 7, 1941. Dorie was a strong man, previously being a football player in high school in Waco, Texas and was the heavyweight boxing champion on the USS West Virginia. The moment the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the West Virginia was one of the ships hit by torpedoes. During the attack, Dorie was assigned to pull several sailors to safety. He attempted to lug the ship’s Captain to safety, however the Captain wouldn’t leave his post. Miller was told to help load a pair of the ship’s anti-aircraft machine guns but astonished everyone as he grabbed one of the guns and commenced shooting at dive-bombing Japanese airplanes.
Even though it is doubtful that Miller actually shot down any Japanese planes, his heroic actions made him a symbol of the sailor willing to do anything to fight the enemy. He was assigned the Navy Cross and his face was seen everywhere on recruiting posters. Regrettably for Dorie, he passed away 24 months later when the escort cruiser he was assigned to (Liscome Bay) was sunk during the Battle of Tarawa.
Both Doris Miller and Benjamin O. Davis Jr. were honored after their deaths. In the movie “Red Tails” Davis is clearly the basis for the persona Col. A.J. Bullard (played by actor Terrance Howard) and Doris Miller has been the basis of characters in the movies Tora Tora Tora and Pearl Harbor. These are only two of the truly amazing black heroes who are relevant during Black history month. Thanks to movies such as Red Tails, the world is finding out more and more about them.