February 11 marks the anniversary of the 100th birthday of General Daniel “Chappie” James, the Pensacola native who became the nation’s first African-American four-star general. In celebration, Pensacola has declared February 11 as General Daniel CHAPPIE James Day. Also, the “Chappie” James Museum and the General Daniel “Chappie” James Flight Academy in Pensacola held a Birthday Celebration attended by many from across the United States, including members of the James family.
Col. Roosevelt Lewis (USAF retired) was the Guest Speaker at the 100th Birthday Celebration where he discussed salient points of the life of a young Daniel James Jr. was born in 1920 in Pensacola, the last of his parents’ 17 children. Col. Lewis discussed how James’ mother was unimpressed with the quality of the segregated public school he would have attended as a youngster, so she started her own. It gradually attracted other neighborhood children. She ran the Lillie A. James School for 52 years, until she died at age 82. Throughout his life James credited his teacher mom with drilling into his head the importance of effort, preparation, and character. During the event members of the James Family told the packed venue how even today they subscribe to the 11th Commandment, “Thou Shall Not Quit.” This was key in his successful career in the USAF.
Lewis was an acquaintance of Gen. James and was also a Tuskegee pilot. “I attended ROTC at Tuskegee University,” said Col. Lewis. “The Tuskegee Airmen were our original instructors and the Tuskegee Airmen raised me in the Air Force.” Col. Lewis remarked that James exemplified the standard of excellence established by the famed African-American pilots of WWII. He added that their common link was Chief Alfred Anderson, the chief flight instructor of the Civilian Pilot Training Program at Tuskegee. Lewis reminisced how Chappie took him on his first flight at Tuskegee.
“General James was an American patriot, who wore patriotism on his sleeve,” Col. Lewis proclaimed. “He did not back away from that. And, of course, he taught us a love for this nation; and the fact that we serve this nation, we understood “service to nation, before self.”
An article in the Air Force Times furthered this sentiment in an article telling of a portrait displayed in the Pentagon on which General James scribbled, “I fought in three wars and three more wouldn’t be too many to defend my country.”
During the birthday celebration, the Chappie James Flight Academy highlighted their mission to support STEM locally and recognized local Pensacola students who were sponsored by the Flight Academy to become pilots. The flight academy was started in 1996, and for the last 23 years has offered an amazing aviation experience, mainly targeting low to medium income boys and girls ages 13-17, giving them the opportunity to attend a high quality program. The flight academy also develops leadership skills for the students through its five areas of primary focus: Aviation Basics and Aerodynamics, Academic Excellence, Independent Thinking and Decision Making, Presentation and Public Speaking Skills, and Financial Life Skills. To learn more about the Academy, visit www.gdcjflightacademy.org.
As a former USAF Fighter Pilot, James “ROCK” Rockhill, President and CEO of the Pensacola-based The Rockhill Group, Inc (TRG), attended the 100th Birthday Celebration. After the celebration, he presented two TRG Challenge Coins. One was presented to Guest Speaker Col. Lewis in celebration of General James’ strong legacy of giving back to the community and taking an active role in recruiting and motivating Pensacola High School students at his alma mater, Booker T. Washington High School. He also presented Mr. Clifton Curtiss, the President of the General Daniel Chappie James Flight Academy, with a TRG Challenge Coin to recognize his organization’s excellence in promoting aviation in our nation’s youth, while celebrating the legacy of General James as a determined Pensacolan who did not take no for an answer and became a USAF Fighter Pilot.
“When I was an Instructor Pilot, I remember motivating new F-15E pilots and WSO students by teaching them about General James’ role as a Fighter Pilot in Vietnam,” said Rockhill. According to Air Force Times, General James flew 100 combat missions I the Korean War, and then 78 combat missions into North Vietnam. In Vietnam he was the Vice wing Commander and worked with renowned Fighter Pilot, and Wing Command Col. Robin Olds for the “Operation Bolo” MiG sweep, which resulted in the highest total kills of any air mission during the Vietnam War. During Operation Bolo Chappie’s and Robin Olds’ flights of F-4s tricked the Vietnamese Air Force into thinking they were the less maneuverable F-105 Thunder Chief. Olds and Chappie led the Wing’s F-4 pilots and WSOs, who engaged the MIGs and knocked seven out of the sky that day.
At the event, James Rockhill shared, “General James’ patriotism and heroism transcends all barriers in that he challenged all aviators to never quit in their pursuit of excellence.”