WILL ROGERS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Okla. --
Soon to follow in the prodigious footsteps of the Tuskegee Airmen, a little boy with a big name was born in Tuskegee, Ala., Sept. 7, 1945.
The boy, now retired Lt. Gen. Daniel James III, is the son of a Tuskegee Airman and the Air Force's first African-American four-star general, Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James Jr.
Despite the big shoes to fill, Daniel James III blazed a path of his own through the U.S. Air National Guard and became its first African-American director in 2002.
Commissioned in 1968 after graduating with distinction from the University of Arizona's Air Force ROTC program, James served as a forward air controller in Southeast Asia. From 1969 to 1970, he logged more than 500 combat flying hours.
Working his way through the ranks and around the world, James became the 11th director of the Air National Guard in 2002. As ANG director, James oversaw more than 106,800 Airmen and 88 flying units in the U.S. and U.S. territories.
Before that, he was the Adjutant General for the Texas National Guard for almost eight years.
"His style of leadership was one that I firmly believe put the Texas National Guard on the path to excellence," said former Adjutant General of the Texas National Guard who followed James, Army Maj. Gen. Wayne D. Marty, "He was a highly motivated individual."
During his nearly four-decade career and 4,000 fighter and trainer hours, the command pilot earned the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, seven Air Medals and two Distinguished Flying Crosses, among others.
The first of the Distinguished Flying Crosses was for "the professional competence, aerial skill, and devotion to duty" displayed in support of a friendly, unarmed aircraft that came in contact with hostile forces. Because of James, the hostile forces were made to withdraw after "heavy" casualties, according to the award citation.
James attributes much of his success to his family, said Marty.
"Danny and I talked about this a lot," he recalled. "He really respected his dad and grandmother. He brought to the Texas National Guard the values he learned as a child from his parents and grandparents."
Spanning the distance between citizen and Airman, James has also earned several service medals for his work as a community leader, most notably as Chairman of the Greater Austin Quality Council and a member of the city's Board of Directors.
On June 5, 2006, James retired from his distinguished 38-year military career. At his retirement, officers gifted the lieutenant general a certificate for a recliner so that James, who continuously travelled during the fulfillment of his duties, could finally relax.
Though not present at his retirement, Marty remembers the hard work James put in.
"His work ethic was one that is emulated by a lot of people and his example of leadership was all just a part of that," added Marty.
Through his constant dedication and unwavering drive, retired Lt. Gen. Daniel James III left a wide path behind him, leading and clearing the way for the Air National Guardsmen who trekked and still trek behind him.
To read the introduction to this series for African American History Month, click here
For part 1 of 4, click here
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For part 4 of 4, click here.