Davis Center named in honor of Air Force general

TAMPA, Fla. -- In a once-in-a-lifetime ceremony Feb. 9, the Mission Planning Center on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa, Fla., was officially named the Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Conference Center.

James G. Roche, secretary of the Air Force; Gen. John P. Jumper, Air Force chief of staff; and Gen. John W. Handy, commander, U.S. Transportation Command and Air Mobility Command, were there to officiate the ceremony, honor the legacy of General Davis. Noted guests included Florida U.S. Reps. Bill Young and Jim Davis, and Tampa Mayor Pam Torio.

General Davis was the first black to graduate from West Point Military Academy in the 20th century. He served as commander of the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, and later of the larger 332nd Fighter Group. He was presented his fourth star and promoted to the rank of general in 1998 by President Bill Clinton.

General Jumper thanked the many Tuskegee Airmen present in the audience for their contributions to the legacy of America, and said the conference center deserves the rich heritage brought to it by naming it after such an important historical figure. General Jumper added that the facility was made possible by the efforts of the men and women of MacDill.

"We're happy to be here in the presence of the airman on this base who made this project happen. There's nothing like it I've seen in the military," he said. "I couldn't be more proud to be here today."

"What you see here today embodies the spirit of General Davis," said General Handy. "The attention to detail (and) the respect for elegance in everything we do."

Col. Tanker Snyder, 6th Air Mobility Wing commander, said General Davis and the Tuskegee Airmen were true American heroes and pioneers who championed the need for diversity in the U.S. military and in American society.

"Equally important is that we place General Davis' name on the Air Force's, and arguably, the Defense Department's premiere conference facility," he said. "An investment I'm happy to report is being utilized extensively by U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, and many other mission partners."

As part of the ceremony, the Judge L. Scott Melville, General Davis' nephew, cut the ribbon for the conference center with Secretary Roche. He also said his uncle would have been honored to be a part of the history taking place at MacDill.

"I've known Ben (General Davis) most of my life. I spent my summers with (him) whenever he was stateside and I got to know him very, very well," he said. "One thing I know about him is that he was proud to be in the Air Force. He loved it."

Judge Melville went on to say when President Clinton presented General Davis with his fourth star--he wanted to thank the Air Force, not just the organization but the individuals who were involved.

"He (General Davis) was really a people person. He would want to thank each and every person who was responsible for this dedication," said Judge Melville.