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Born on February 11, 1920, in Pensacola, Florida, James learned to fly while attending Tuskegee Institute. After graduation in 1942 he continued in civilian flight training until receiving appointment as a cadet in the Army Air Corps in January 1943. He was commissioned in July and through the remainder of World War II trained pilots for the all-black 99th Pursuit Squadron and worked in other assignments. He was subsequently stationed in Ohio and in the Philippines. During the Korean War he flew 101 missions in fighters.
From 1953 to 1956 he commanded the 437th and then the 60th Fighter Interception Squadron at Otis Air Force Base, Massachusetts, receiving promotions to major in that period; and on graduating from the Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, in 1957, he was assigned to staff duty in Washington, D.C. From 1960 to 1964 he was stationed in England, from 1964 to 1966 in Arizona, and from 1966 to 1967 in Vietnam, where he flew 78 combat missions. By then a colonel, he was vice commander of the 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, 1967 to 1969. After this he was promoted to brigadier general and was named base commander of Wheelus Air Force Base, Libya. In March 1970 James became deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, and in that post he advanced to major general. In September 1974, with the rank of lieutenant general, he became vice commander of the Military Airlift Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. In September 1975 he became the first black officer to obtain four-star rank in any service. He was at that time 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. James was also a much sought-after public speaker and devoted considerable time to addressing youth groups, particularly minority students. General James died of a heart attack shortly after retiring in 1978.
From Webster's American Military Biographies, Merriam Co., 1978. 497p. Daniel James, Jr., pp 199-200.
For pictures and more information on General "Chappy" James, go to the ALLSTAR Learning Laboratory's Blacks in Aviation section.
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Updated: 12 March, 2004