Other African American Military Firsts

As Black History Month is celebrated, here are just a few of the countless barrier breakers who have proudly served throughout our nation’s history.

Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. served as commander of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. He later went on to become the first African American general in the United States Air Force. His father, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., had been the first African American brigadier general in the Army (1940).

Phyllis Mae Dailey was the first African American woman sworn into the Navy Nurse Corps in 1945. Dailey was one of only four African American women to serve in the U.S. Navy during WWII.

James Anderson Jr. became the first African American Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor in 1968. Anderson was killed in February 1967 when he grabbed a live enemy grenade during an intense fire fight, using his own body to absorb the blast, saving his comrades.

Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. was the first African American to achieve the rank of four-star general in 1975. A Tuskegee University graduate, James trained pilots of the all-black 99th Pursuit Squadron during WWII, served in Korea and Vietnam before retiring in 1978.

World War I hero Freddie Stowers was posthumously award the Medal of Honor in 1991. Stowers died in combat fighting in France in 1918. He is the first and only black service member to receive the nation’s highest award for valor during The Great War.

Colin Powell served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from October 1, 1989-September 30, 1993. Powell is the youngest and first African-American to hold that position. In 1991, General Powell oversaw Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He was nominated as the 65th Secretary of State by President George W. Bush on December 16, 2000. Powell was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. At that time, this was the highest rank in civilian government ever held by an African-American.

Jeanine McIntosh became the first female African American aviator to serve in the United States Coast Guard in 2005. McIntosh earned her wings at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, piloting the HC-130. She also flew rescue missions following Hurricane Katrina. McIntosh is current a Lieutenant commander in the Coast Guard.

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