Special Lindbergh “Spirit” Award Presented at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.
General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1932 as the only African-American cadet and, four years later, became the first black West Point graduate in the 20th century. Receiving his wings in early 1942, Davis formed and trained the 99th Pursuit Squadron, the first all-black operational flying unit and the beginning of the Tuskegee Airmen. He led the squadron into combat in North Africa and Sicily in 1943. Returning to the U.S. later in the same year, he assumed command of the 332nd Fighter Group, another all-black flying unit. Under his leadership in Italy, the pilots of the 332nd lost no bombers to enemy fighters on their escort missions. For a quarter century following World War II, Davis served in numerous command and staff posts. He became the U.S. Air Force’s first black general officer in 1954, and retired in 1970 as a Lieutenant General following a distinguished 38-year military career. Davis was nominated and confirmed in 1971 as Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Safety and Consumer Affairs. When the responsibilities of his office were expanded, he continued as Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety, and Consumer Affairs until 1975. His contributions to aviation safety included development and implementation of the nation’s airport security systems.