Black History Month…‘Chappie’ James, first African American four-star general


Daniel James Jr. was his actual name, but everyone knew him as “Chappie.”
Air Force Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. became the first African American service member to reach the rank of full general, a four-star general, in 1975. At the time, he was also named commander of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), with responsibility for all aspects of air defense for the United States and Canada.
According to an article written by Bethanne Kelly Patrick of, after “Chappie” James pinned on his fourth star, he said: “I’ve fought in three wars, and three more wouldn’t be too many to defend my country. I love America, and as she has weaknesses or ills, I’ll hold her hand.”


James was born in Pensacola, Fla., on Feb. 11, 1920. He attended Tuskegee Institute and was one of the famed “Tuskegee Airmen.” The unit was part of the government-sponsored Civilian Pilot Training Program, an all-Black unit whose members were kept separated from their white counterparts.
The article said that in an era of enforced segregation in the armed forces, James continued to achieve despite racial bias. He fought in both the Korean and Vietnam wars, flying over 160 combat missions and leading the Bolo MiG sweep of 21 Communist aircraft—the highest total kill of any Vietnam air mission.
AN AIR FORCE PHOTO of Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., the first African American to attain status as four-star general. “Chappie” was an F-4 Pilot during the Vietnam War.

James had spent years gaining combat experience at Air Force bases at home and overseas. When he returned to the United States after his Vietnam assignment, he took command of the 7272nd Fighter Training Wing in the Libyan Arab Republic in 1969. Afterwards, however, James moved briefly into public affairs, and it was in his role as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense (public affairs) that he gave his most public contributions in service. As an effective and thoroughly professional Air Force spokesman, he spoke out not only on military policies, but also on racial policies.
No matter how outspoken James was in favor of desegregation, what most people recall from his speeches, according to the article, is his deep patriotism and commitment to duty. Among his numerous awards is the 1970 Arnold Air Society Eugene M. Zuckert Award for outstanding contributions to Air Force professionalism. The citation for the honor says it all, proclaiming James a “fighter pilot with a magnificent record, public speaker, and eloquent spokesman for the American Dream we so rarely achieve.”
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