|On 29 May 1984 The Boston Globe published an article entitled “ ‘Nothing in news’ when he dies,
but now a pilot is remembered.” The following are key excerpts from that article:
Captain David L. Ramsey died when his F-4 fighter jet was shot down near Da Nang on August 17,
1970. His was one of two fighter jets sent out at night to destroy a deadly Viet Cong artillery
emplacement. To locate the Communist guns, Ramsay flew low at slow speed, and was caught in their
fire. The Air Force recovered his body the next day.
Yesterday, Ramsay was honored appropriately on Memorial Day with the dedication of Capt. David L.
Ramsay Square at the corner of Woodrow and Ballou avenues, Dorchester. VFW Post 8772 [Author’s
comment: The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post was opened under David’s name in 1973.], which is named
for Ramsay, paraded a color guard and unveiled the marker. …
Charles Ramsay, the late pilot’s uncle, said, “When he died there was nothing in the news. Now
he’s getting some recognition. He died doing what he wanted to do. Fly planes and be in combat.”
Ramsay, born on Christmas Day 1938, was a native Bostonian. He enlisted in the Air Force, his
uncle said, to get away from the Roxbury streets.
At West Point, where he is buried, Ramsay helped gain the admission of his younger brother,
Robert, who later piloted a B-52 bomber in Vietnam. The Ramsay brothers were the first pair of
black brothers to attend West Point.
Ramsay went back to the Air Force, and became a flight instructor at Laredo Air Force Base in
1967. … By 1970 Ramsay wanted a combat assignment.
“He wanted to see if the maneuvers he taught really worked,” said his uncle. “But his commanding
officer at Laredo didn’t want to lose him. So Dave went to see Brig. Gen. B. O. Davis, who was
in Florida. [Author’s comment: Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr., was an African American West Pointer
who was also commissioned in the Air Force. He was graduated near the top of his class in 1936.
He retired as a lieutenant general in late 1970, so he most probably held that rank when Dave
visited him earlier that year.] He got Davis to make a commitment to him, and I guess Davis
outranked his commanding officer by a star.”
Cynthia Hall, an aunt, recalled a visit by Ramsay shortly before he went to Vietnam in May 1970.
He brought his wife and infant daughter to visit his grandmother, Gladys Ramsay, who raised him.
“If I die, I die,” he told his relatives. “It’s for my country. That’s my mission in life.”
Charles Ramsay, a Korean War veteran, remembers telling his nephew to be careful.
“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I’m full of booklearning.”
The Air Force saved for the family a tape made by Ramsay the night before his fatal mission.
“He was standing at the end of the tarmac,” said the uncle. “He was reminiscing about his family
and how he missed everyone.”
Yesterday, post commander Aphonic Courtney read from a rain-sodden book. “These men and women are
worthy of far greater recognition than mere words or markers. The sacrifices they made and the
deeds they performed shall be written in history and shall remain alive in our memories for
generations to come.”
Ramsay, the uncle, pulled his hat brim lower and said, “Personally, I don’t think Dave’s death
served much purpose. But he was doing what he wanted. He was all Air Force, God, Country, and
The article said a lot about David Ramsay, but there is a lot more to be said about this unique
individual, a proud African American and a true patriot.
Dave’s life was a series of challenges, all of which he conquered in admirable fashion. To start
with, both of his parents died when he was only five years old, and his brother, Bob, only a year
of age. As such, the youngsters were raised by their grandmother, Gladys, a strong-willed woman
who, despite far-from-ideal conditions, instilled an exceptionally high degree of discipline and
determination in her grandsons. Dave’s list of accomplishments is solid evidence.
At English High School in Boston Dave began to emerge as a natural leader of many talents. Besides
being a key performer in the Glee Club, he was the drum major of the Drum and Bugle Corps and the
president of the Music Appreciation Club. He also was designated as the class song writer and took
great pride in writing the lyrics for the class song. As an athlete, Dave’s long, strong legs took
him to the top levels. His cross-country team won the Massachusetts state championship in 1954 and
1955. The 1954 team also won the New England championship. His 1956 track team took the state
championship largely due to Dave’s placing first in the 1,000-yard indoor event and the 880-yard
outdoor event. And, as a further measure of his diligence, during his senior year in high school,
Dave was also selected to be a member of the U.S. Air Force’s mile relay team.
Eventually it became clear to Dave that what he wanted out of life was to serve his country as an
air force officer, and more specifically, as a fighter pilot. He reasoned that there was no better
way to achieve that goal than to attend the best officer training school in the world—the U.S.
Military Academy at West Point. Although the U.S. Air Force Academy had just gotten underway,
Dave still figured that West Point was his best bet since it had already provided countless
outstanding officers. So, he put in his request to attend the USMA Prep School at Fort Belvoir,
Virginia. It was approved, and Dave reported there in the summer of 1959.
Along with KB Kindleberger, another of Dave’s classmates at the prep school was Army PFC Dick
Chilcoat, who later became the first captain of the Class of ’64. Dick remembers Dave and those
formative years well: “We entered the Prep School in July with over 300 cadet candidates.
Eventually, about 180 of us qualified for admission to one of the academies, ninety or so went
on to West Point, and forty-four graduated four years later with the Class of ’64.
“Dave Ramsay was the only black cadet candidate in our Prep School class, and was one of only
two (Warren Miller was our other black classmate) in our West Point class. By setting standards
of excellence that were worthy of emulation by all of us, Dave paved the way for future
generations of black cadets and established a legacy that would sustain them at West Point and,
ultimately, in their service to our nation.
“In the summer of 1959, I remember early on observing Dave as we stood in the cadet candidate
company formations. I was in Third platoon and he was in Second platoon. ‘Rams,’ as he came to
be known, was tall, lean, and ramrod straight. In Air Force Blue, standing rock-solid at
attention amongst a sea of Army Green, he exemplified the words, ‘military bearing and appearance.’
“As we learned quickly, he was also a man of great intelligence, warm and sincere demeanor, and
dignified carriage. His sense of humor, manifested by a wide grin and a glint in the eye, along
with his countenance and character…won him many friends and a thousand admirers. He excelled in
the classroom, on the drill field, and on the athletic field. In sports, Dave’s speed, power,
ability, and grace were awesome.
“More than any other attribute, we were impressed with his leadership qualities. He was a standout.
A natural leader. Dave was a pacesetter in a platoon of gifted cadet candidates that included
soldiers, airmen, marines, and sailors such as Chartrand, Clements, Davis, Gibbs, Grubbs, Gundisson,
Higgins, Jackson, Ketton, Kindleberger, McLemore, Mortensen, Moore, Norwell, Sprague, and Wells,
to name a few.
“Yes, Dave Ramsay was easy to remember…because he was a standard-bearer of excellence at the USMA
Prep School as well as at West Point. He was someone to guide on and destined to make history in
our hearts and in our minds. How could he not? Dave was all that we wanted to be: a leader of character.”
It was a proud moment for Dave when he shed his air force blue for cadet gray on 5 July 1960.
In so doing, he joined the Class of ’64 as one of its older and wiser members and with more military
experience than anyone else who took the oath that day.
As a cadet, Dave continued to excel as a runner and broke the plebe indoor track record for the
1,000-yard run during his first year. And, he was also a member of the record-breaking plebe two-mile
relay team during that same indoor season. Later, while on the varsity track team, Dave again
participated in setting a two-mile relay record in indoor track. Although
Akos Szekely concentrated on longer distance running than Dave, the two of them spent a lot of
time together on the cinders and developed a great mutual respect. No one at that time could have
possibly imagined what their similar fates would be, least of all, their admiring track coach,
One of David's biggest thrills in sports and in life occurred during his firstie year when he
was joined on the track team by a yearling, Bob Ramsey. Dave had set such a good example for his
younger brother that Bob followed in his footsteps exactly-after high school he joined the air force,
attended the West Point Prep School en route to the academy, and then, after graduation, went back
into the air force as a officer and pilot. The only difference was that Bob became a bomber pilot.
Bob, why didn't you tell Dave that he should have been a bomber pilot, too?
Within the class, Dave's reputation as a leader was well known to all. In fact, in his Camp Buckner
evaluation in 1961 his TAC wrote, "I believe this man is the most outstanding cadet in his class!"
It was no surprise when he was selected to be a company commander during firstie year.
It was also no surprise when Dave chose to return to the air force after graduation. Until the Air
Force Academy began providing air force officers several years earlier, West Point had been supplying
that service a good number of its officers. By 1964, however, air force slots were limited for USMA
grads, and Dave was one of only fifty-four in the class to don the blue.
During the following six years, Dave Ramsay distinguished himself by a solid record of outstanding
achievement-after graduation from flight school at the top of his class, he became a flight instructor,
a job which he undertook with characteristic zeal and skill. Recognized as one of the best, Dave was
repeatedly singled out for honors and positions of greater responsibility.
While his career was on the rise, Dave took time out to marry Elizabeth Yancey in 1966 and on 5
February 1969 their daughter, Nicole, was born. As had been the case with the children of the other
fallen warriors of '64, Nicole never had the opportunity to get to know her father and benefit from
his upbringing. Dave's grandson, though, Jonathan David, is benefitting from his mother's loving
care-as well as that of his doting grandmother.
In Vietnam Dave had been assigned to the Fourth Tactical Fighter Squadron at Da Nang Air Base.
He had only been in the country three months when his plane went down, but in that short amount of
time, he had been awarded a Silver Star and two Distinguished Flying Crosses along with a handful
of other medals. And he had already been selected for subsequent assignment to the U.S. Air Force
Thunderbirds' Aerial Demonstration Team, an honor falling only a very select few.
Dave's was one of 2,340 U.S. Air Force deaths in Southeast Asia. That represents only four percent
of the total of names on the Vietnam Memorial. But the loss of David LeRoy Ramsay has to be one of
the most severe because he was so much for so many. Within the Class of '64, he was one of our most
respected leaders and we thought he was indestructible. Within the air force he was a star on the
rise, in more ways than one. Within his race he was the epitome of pride and success. And, within
his family, he was the ideal son and grandson, the exemplary brother and a most loving and caring
husband and father.
When Dave died, the war in Vietnam was still going strong although the number of American military
personnel had dropped to less than 400,000. It had been a bad summer for the Class of '64, however,
as it lost three of its finest-one each month, and all three aircraft related.
~ Fallen Warriors The West Point Class of 1964 by John Murray
Class visit to the Wall prior to 35th Reunion
Unveiling of the Captain David L. Ramsay Memorial
Saturday, November 20, 1999
Washington Street, Roxbury, MA
(click here for pictures