MS – 202: James W. Davis Letters

Link to Full Finding Aid (PDF)

(1 box, .33 cu. Ft.)

Inclusive Dates:  1951 - 1968

Bulk Dates: 1966-1968

Processed by:  Karen D. Drickamer, December 2016                       

Provenance:  Purchased from Michael Brown Rare Books

Biographical Note:

James Walter Davis was born in 1910,  enlisted in the Army in 1930, completed his Basic training at Greenwood, Mississippi, and was assigned to Army Field Artillery.  He really wanted Air Corps so he went to night school.  He was eventually received into Cadet Training for the Army Air Corps at Mitchell Field, Long Island, New York, and graduated from Craig Field, Selma, Alabama.  He became a flight instructor and instrument instructor piloting B24s and C-54s.  By 1942, the Army had created Air Transport Command (ATC), which was the first service able to deliver supplies and equipment to combat theaters around the world by air.  At its height in August 1945, ATC operated more than 3200 transport aircraft and employed 209,000 personnel.  James Davis flew for ATC in Europe, Egypt, India, China, and Brazil.  He resigned as a major in 1946 to return home to help his ailing mother.   Shortly after her death, James re-enlisted in the Army Air Force as a Sergeant Major.  He married Janet Wilcox in 1947.  By the time of the Berlin Air Lift (1948-49), James was once again a commissioned officer with the rank of major.  He served in Germany for 3 years, stationed at Furstenfeldbruck AFB (“Fursty”) near Munich. 

Davis returned to the States on detached service, flying for Capital Airways, (a primary civilian carrier for the military's Logistic Air Support (LOGAIR) program) flying cargo for the CIA.  Following after-hours instruction in helicopter piloting, he  became a highly qualified helicopter pilot and a flight instructor  for Southern Airways Flight School for Air Force cadres.  James retired from the US Air Force as a Lt. Col. in 1958.  He moved his family to Lakeland, Florida, and flew helicopters for Publix Markets.  His ship crashed during a flight from Lakeland to Clearwater, and he suffered severe back injuries and a broken leg, injuries that continued to plague him for years.  (Naples Daily News.  Sunday, March 16, 1975. p. 58.)

In August of 1965, James joined Air America as a civilian pilot, stationed in Saigon, Vietnam, flying Bell UH-1 helicopters.  He was First Officer until he resigned on 27 December, 1968, at age 58.   (Private correspondence, Patrizia Nava, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas, 18 Nov. 2016.)

Historical Note :

Within a year after the war against the Japanese ended, a Chinese/American company, Civil Air Transport,  supported the Chinese National Government during their combat actions against the Communist Chinese by flying troops, supplies and munitions to Nationalist forces on mainland China. When the Nationalist China forces were defeated in 1949, the airline evacuated thousands of Chinese Nationals to the island of Taiwan. The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 spurred the CIA to acquire Civil Air Transport and the company was reorganized as CAT Incorporated, ostensibly a private enterprise, but actually CIA’s new aviation arm.  In 1958, CAT was reorganized as Air America and provided CIA with supply and covert mission support flights, as well as search and rescue capabilities, during the war in both Laos and South Vietnam.   By 1962, the airline was moving and extracting troops and personnel from the war zone as well as providing support for several foreign governments involved in the war. It also transported refugees and took photos that would be used to further intelligence information.

The pilots and support personnel came from all aviation sources to include every branch of the US military.  The airline flew the combination of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters because of the many varied, dangerous and unforgiving landing spots carved out of jungle and mountain sides.  They flew cargo of food, mail, cement, roofing material, sedated animals, and gasoline.

They were a patriotic and professional group, and although civilians, they operated in combat areas and risk was all in a day’s work.   The crews displayed outstanding skill and boundless courage day and night, in monsoons, and in continuous dangerous all weather operations.  The pilots were not required to fly to the rescue of military personnel in distress or place their lives in danger and received no compensation for their efforts and often lost wages because of their actions.  Air America lost 240 pilots and crew to hostile fire.

During the Fall of Saigon in April 1975, around 100 Marine, Air Force, and Air America choppers, took part in in Operation Frequent Wind and evacuated an estimated 7,000 Americans and South Vietnamese out of Saigon in less than 24 hours.   Air America was disbanded in 1976.

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