'Taps' for Two Heroes
By James Murdock
Editorial Page Editor
The Lynchburg News
Saturday, March 4, 1978
Mr. and Mrs. Chauncey Spencer
This is a story of two men. And a last farewell to them. One reached the heights, the other helped pave the way for him. Their names: General Daniel James Jr., and Dale Lawrence White.
On Feb. 1, General Daniel Chappie James retired from the U.S. Air Force as Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff. Previous to that he has served as Commander in Chief of NORAD/ADCOM, in which he had operational command of all United States and Canadian strategic aerospace defense forces. On Feb. 25 he died of a heart attack.
Dale White retired as a civilian employee at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1971, having risen from a junior aircraft mechanic to foreman. He died last Dec. 15.
"Chappie" James was known throughout the world. He was a command pilot, he served in many command positions in the U.S Air Force, he was one of the most decorated of U.S airmen, and he was a four-star General--the first black to achieve that rank.
Dale White also was an airman-- one of the first black airmen. He trained himself as a mechanic and skimped and saved money to pay for private flying lessons. He was one of the founding members of the National Airmen Association of America. He and Chauncey E. Spencer, son of Lynchburg's celebrated poetess Anne Spencer, were chosen to fly a rented plane to Washington in 1939 to meet with a Congressional committee in an effort to gain the admission of blacks into the Air Corps. They met Senator Harry S. Truman, who promised to help them, and after he became President issued the executive orders which opened many doors to blacks in America.
In 1940, White applied for employment as an airplane mechanic at Patterson Field but was turned down because of his race. He requested permission to speak with the chief personnel officer, explained his long struggle to qualify himself for this job, and was hired. He was then 40 years of age. He retired 31 years later at the age of 71, with a record that was without blemish, reprimand or error, and starred with commendations.
Upon his death, Spencer his friend and a co-founder of the NAAA, wrote to the Secretary of the Air Force, citing White's contributions as paving the way for men such as "Chappie" James: "It was the character, dedication, tact, respect and work application exhibited by Dale White, his being first that opened opportunities and avenues for many who followed him and it established a positive example that overshadowed those others who attitude and work performance failed to meet policies and required standards.
He was a gentle, generous, kindly, honorable man and with a sensitive intelligence - he must live on in memory!"
"Chappie" James was an American hero. So was Dale White. The one was recognized as one of the greats of the U.S. Air Force. The other passed his life in relative obscurity.
At his retirement ceremony on 26 January at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, "Chappie" James acknowledged his debt to such men in a note he wrote on Chauncey Spencer's memorial program:
To Chauncey 'Baby'--You made it all possible We all thank you! Daniel James Jr."
It was the recognition that Chauncey Spencer sought for Dale White from the Secretary of the Air Force.
The death of General James came as a shock to the nation, so shortly after his retirement. He had become a legend in his lifetime, a trailblazer--the first black pilot, the first black command pilot, the first black four-star general. His body lay in state in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington and he was buried on Thursday with ceremonies befitting his rank in Arlington National Cemetery.
Only his family and friends knew of and mourned the death of Dale White, who did so much to open the door to General James' remarkable career. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh's greet flight. "Chappie" James said something that can stand as his obituary:
"I don't make a profession of being black. I'm here because I'm damn good. I've filled the squares. I've flown the friendly skies of Vietnam and Thailand. I am a leader, and I have done the things one must do to become a general. Generals are not born - they are made."
And they are helped along the way by the Dale Whites of this world. On this occasion, they rate the same salute, the same "Taps."