Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. Bridge Memorial on track
Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. was born on Friday, Feb. 11 102 years ago. The Pensacola native was a Tuskegee Airman, who rose to become the nation’s first African-American four-star general.
The newly-constructed bridge over Pensacola Bay will bear his name. Plans are in place for development of a monument in his honor at the foot of the bridge.
“Well this is the proposed site, and the beauty of it is that you’ll have access. And, there’s parking available,” said Cris Dosev, chairman of the Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. Memorial Foundation, the driving force behind the new monument.
“We are just north of the Visitor Center of Pensacola and just to the east of the new round-a-bout under the flyover, which leads you onto 17th Ave. and Graffiti Bridge.”
Motorists coming off the bridge from Gulf Breeze will have the best vantage point.
“You’re going to see first the flag pole, with this giant American flag. Then, you’ll see the F-4 Phantom and that will lead you to the statue of Gen. James,” he explained.
Dosev says getting to this point has taken three years, beginning with an intense debate over the naming of bridge in 2019 and legislation to make it official in 2020.
“From that point forward, we were able to reach out to the community and request assistance by the City of Pensacola, who generously provided us $250K in a grant that will for the most part pay for the sculpture and the pedestal that’s coming from our sculptor, Mr. Ed Dwight,” Dosev said.
Dosev says Dwight, whose studios are in Denver, is a very unique individual, who is perfect for the job.
“He’s done over 100 projects primarily themed on African-American heroes and historical figures in America,” he begins. “But, before the age of 29, he was an aeronautical engineer, and Air Force pilot, test pilot, 2,500 hours in tactical jets, a very accomplished pilot, and the first black man selected for the United States AF program as an astronaut by John F. Kennedy,”
“Being a fighter pilot like Chappie James seems to bring it all together a little bit, and that’s more than likely why I was selected to do the commission,” said sculptor Ed Dwight.
Now in his upper 80s, Dwight has an impressive resume of African-American themed statues and monuments that now includes a 10-foot statue of Gen. James.
“You know, he was a perfect subject for sculpture. You know, Chappie obviously was an interesting character. He was a large man, and he had a commanding presence.”
For example, the artist refers to the Vietnam-era photo of James in his flight suit, standing in front of an F-4C Phantom fighter.
According to Dwight, this image was chosen as the inspiration for the sculpture, offers loads of interest and detail, including his flight helmet, hand-gun, and survival gear.
“The vest itself probably weighed 35 pounds with all the first-aid equipment, the survival equipment. And, he had zippers,” noted Dwight. “And, all the regalia that you have adds to the power of the sculpture.”
Checking the progress of the statue, Dwight said he was searching for a historically accurate helmet to serve as a model for the statue as he finishes the clay model phase and readies to make a hard copy.
But, the statue is just one part of the monument.
Back at the monument site at the foot of the bridge, Chris Dosev updates efforts to acquire an aircraft for the display.
“We have just recently secured an Air Force Phantom from the Air Force Museum,” he said.
The jet is currently on static display in Gallatin, Tennessee, which is about an 8-hour drive from us, just northeast of Nashville.
“We’re in the process of securing that administratively. It’ll be leased to the City of Pensacola. We’ll have it brought here to the Naval Air Museum for rework and preparation. And, then we’re going to put it on a stick, here behind the general.”
The memorial board is now busy working on administrative and structural details to come up with a final development plan for the million-dollar memorial project.
At this point, Dosev says everything is on track, with hopes to have the monument completed by September to coincide with completion of the bridge and celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Air Force.
“And, we’re looking forward to it,” he exclaimed. “I think people are genuinely excited about this.”