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Chappie James' Packed Bags: A Model for Us All

Gary North
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June 19, 2006.

This was printed in DC Military (May 13, 2005).

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Lt. Gen. Daniel James III is the director of the Air National Guard and commands more than 104,000 Guardsmen in approximately 300 units across the 50 states and territories.

The medals he wears over his heart tell the story of his career, but in his heart, he carries the memories of his father, Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James Jr., an American hero.

In a recent interview, the younger General James recounted how his father passed on life lessons learned to him, and how he, in turn, hopes to pass that same wisdom to the Airmen who serve now and will serve after him. . . .

"Your time will come"

Daniel James Jr. was born on Feb. 11, 1920, in Pensacola, Fla., to loving parents who inspired hope and determination in their children. He knew his future was with the airplanes that flew at the nearby naval air station. As a child he would try to keep pace with the shadows of the airplanes as they flew overhead, following them for miles before returning home for a minor scolding. Daniel's mother, Lillie Anna James, understood her son's passion and inspired in her children the strengths that would help him when he became a man.

"His mother gave him a vision," General James III said. "That vision was that you can be anything you want to be in this world if you work hard enough and prepare yourself. He came from a great big family, not very well off. But she knew in order for him to really aspire and be somebody, he had to have that vision, that dream."

At the age of 17, Daniel James Jr.'s dream had lost none of its passion. He wanted to join the Navy so he could fly, but 1937 reality grounded him. He was told he was in the wrong line, that a black man could only be a cook or a steward in the Navy. He returned home feeling he had been misled about life; maybe a strong will wasn't enough after all, especially in the face of extreme prejudice.

"Your time will come," Mrs. James said. "Don't forget your dream. Be prepared."

That night, Mrs. James told her son about opportunity.

"When the train of opportunity pulls in at your station, you can't tell the conductor 'Wait a minute, I have to go back and pack my bags,'" she told him. "They have to already be packed."

Those "bags" have to be packed with knowledge, character, enthusiasm, drive, the concept of service and citizenship. All the things a person needs to be successful. Then, when the train pulls into the station, the person just jumps on board and rides the train to their destination. . . .

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