Additional Member Biographies
HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF “THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN EXPERIENCE”
History records that the Military Air Command considered the training and utilization of “Negro” personnel for military aviation in World War II as a sociological ” military training experiment”. The Air Force did not want to accept Blacks into the Army Air Corps at that time because they, along with a large segment of the White population, believed that Blacks were inherently inferior and lacked the mental aptitude to fly fighter aircraft as well as the courage to fight in combat. It was only through political pressure brought on by the relentless effort of the Black community, with the support of a few sympathetic Whites, that the program to train Black aviators was established at Tuskegee Alabama, in 1941.
Despite the burden of discrimination in training and combat, the Tuskegee Airmen achieved an outstanding combat record. They destroyed or damaged over 400 German aircraft and over a thousand ground and sea targets. The most renowned accomplishments were the sinking of a destroyer with only machine gun fire and that the Tuskegee Airmen had a perfect bomber escort record. Not one bomber was lost to enemy fighters while under their protection spanning 200 escort missions.
OTA George A. Taylor
George Taylor was one of 966 Black military pilots trained during World War II at Tuskegee Army Air Field, Alabama, near Tuskegee University; and one of 450 single-engine fighter pilots who participated in combat overseas. When Mr. Taylor first left his hometown of Middlesex, Va. to enlist in the Army Air Forces at Tuskegee Alabama, he did not tell his neighbors and friends of his plans. According to his wife Joan, “he never told any of them because so many cadets were washed out during training.” “He didn’t want them to know, so when he did get his wings, he went home and shocked everyone.”
Born the youngest and only boy of five children, Mr. Taylor graduated from high school in 1938 and went to Virginia State University in Petersburg for three years before he decided to enlist. After the war he came to Chicago, entered the Curtiss-Wright School of Aeronautical Engineering and graduated in 1950. While going to school he worked at the post office.
As an original member of the 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group, Captain Taylor flew the P-39, P-47, Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang Fighter Planes in combat. His base locations overseas included Montecorvino Airfield, Italy, Capodichino Airdrome, It aly, Ramitelli Airfield, Italy. Captain Taylor flew more than 50 missions with the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group over Italy and was awarded two Bronze Stars, an Air Medal, and four Battle Stars. He had twelve years of active and reserve military duty.
George A. Taylor, former WWII Fighter Pilot, along with other original Tuskegee Airmen, was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal Award at a prestigious ceremony in honor of his accomplishments as a Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. The event took place in the Rotunda of the Capitol of the United States on March 29, 2007. George was always proud of his WWII aviation legacy, but the proudest moment of his life came when the Tuskegee Airmen were presented with the Congressional Gold Medal. He had a small replica made and had it put on a chain which he wore around his neck from that moment in 2007 until the day he died.
In later years, George became the first African American Sr. Civil Engineer with the Engineering Department of the Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. He worked as the chief engineer on the first Deep Tunnel project at La Grange Road and Illinois Highway 171 near Hodgkins, IL. He retired in 1986, with 35 years of service. Mr. Taylor was a treasurer of the Chicago Tuskegee Airmen Inc. and the former national chairman of the committee on nominations of Tuskegee Airmen Inc.
His survivors include his wife Joan, his stepdaughter, Susan Chatman; and a sister, Otelia Payne. Mr. Taylor, 88, died of prostate cancer Saturday, June 21, 2008 in his home. His family plans to have his remains scattered over Moten Field by chapter aviators in October 2008, during the dedication of that WWII training base as a National History Site.
OTA John Steward Sloan, Sr.
John Stewart Sloan, Sr., an original Tuskegee Airman, shot down during WWII, was an author, community activist, active church member, dedicated husband, father and successful executive, who became the Inland Steel Company’s first black personnel officer and rose to the position of corporate finance manager. Mr. Sloan died on December 28, 2001, at the University of Chicago Hospitals from coronary artery disease.
Mr. Sloan received a degree in history and sociology from Kentucky State University.
Then Mr. Sloan heard of an unprecedented opportunity: “The United States Army Air Corps announced a training course for Negro airmen to be conducted at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute. Sloan, a Kentucky postal worker who dreamed of being a pilot, eagerly submitted his application and was accepted into the program. Thus began a life-changing odyssey for a young man determined to serve his country, prove his mettle and see the world.”1
In 1942, Mr. Sloan joined the Army Air Corps at Tuskegee, Alabama and received his pilots wings on June 30th, 1943. On March 30th, 1944, while returning from a combat mission with the country’s first black fighter squadron, Mr. Sloan was shot down over Italy after he crossed into Allied territory. Gunfire from the ground during the second battle of Monte Cassion set Mr. Sloan’s plane on fire and shrapnel ripped into his left leg. Before he parachuted to safety, Mr. Sloan took steps to prevent further loss of blood. “First thing I had to do was put a tourniquet on my thigh”, Mr. Sloan told the Chicago Tribune newspaper in 1999. “As the Lord would have it, that day I was wearing my white silk scarf. This was one my wife had given me and I made a point of not wearing it every time I went up, so it wouldn’t become a symbol I would feel I needed in order to fly. But I had decided to wear it that day.” Mr. Sloan and his high school sweetheart, Wilhelmina “Billie” Carson had married the day before he received his wings at Tuskegee the previous year.
After moving to Chicago, Mr. Sloan became an active member of the Chatham community. He joined the Chicago Urban League and was a consummate member of the Church of the Good Shepherd Congregational United Church of Christ, where he served as a member of the men’s club, the church trustee board and the church cabinet. Also, as an early member of the Chicago “DODO” Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Mr. Sloan chaired the chapter’s Corporate Fundraising Committee.
Earlier in 2001, Mr. Sloan and his wife had been celebrating the release of his autobiography entitled: “Survival! A Purple Heart Tuskegee Airman”. In addition to his wife, Mr. Sloan left behind a daughter, Linda Jeanne Sloan Locke; a son, John Steward Sloan, Jr.; a sister Mary Sloan Edelen; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
1. Excerpted from his autobiography: “Survival! A Purple Heart Tuskegee Airman”
OTA Andrew Perez
On May 5, Andrew “Doc” Perez died at ManorCare Health Services in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Dr. Perez, 82, was one of the original Tuskegee Airmen and an outspoken opponent to the closing of Meigs Field on March 31st. As a member of the Chicago “DODO” Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Dr. Perez was actively involved in the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles Program. He enjoyed going to Meigs Field to introduce children to careers in aviation.
He also loved telling others about the role of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Dr. Perez was among more than 900 airmen who became part of the “Great Experiment” to see if African Americans could support the nation’s military operations. After graduating from Tilden Technical High School in Chicago, Dr. Perez entered the U.S. Army Air Forces flight training program at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama Dr. Perez became a radio equipment technician and earned his wings in gunnery.After completing his military service, Dr. Perez received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Roosevelt University in Chicago, and then a doctorate of optometry degree from the Monroe School, which later became part of the Illinois College of Optometry. As an optometrist, patients and friends began affectionately calling Dr. Perez “Doc.”Always passionate about education, Dr. Perez taught math and science at Hyde Park Academy High School during the 1960s and 70s.Dr. Perez is survived by his wife, Bobbie Anthony-Perez.
OTA Roy Martis Chappell
Roy Martis Chappell began his flight on September 16, 1921, in Williamsburg, Kentucky to the union of Linold and Flora Chappell. He was the second of three children. The family later moved to Monroe, Michigan where he attended Monroe High School. He was the only Black in his graduating class of 250 students and he graduated in the top 10% of his class. Roy was the high point man in track and lettered in both football and track.
During World War II, Chappell graduated from the Navigation School at Hondo, TX in Class 4411 98 as 2nd Lieutenant, and later, from Bombardier School in Midland, TX in Class 4543. He served at Godman Field and later at Freeman Field, where he participated in the Freeman Mutiny during which 101 African-American officers protested unequal treatment by the military by attempting to enter a white only officer’s club. By doing so, he risked his own freedom and life for the future advancement of others. Since it was wartime, the actions amounted to treason, and the airmen received disciplinary letters in their files. The highly publicized incident led President Harry Truman to end segregation in the military three years later. The disciplinary actions however, weren’t expunged until the 1990′s.
After Roy’s discharge from the service, he moved to Chicago and later married Lucy Lang. Roy completed his college education at Roosevelt University in Chicago and became an educator with the Chicago Public Schools and teaching at Carnegie School. He was a Math teacher, counselor and Vice Principal. The Honor Assembly at Carnegie School is named “The Roy Chappell Honor Assembly” due to his special interest in scholastic excellence.
A final tribute to Roy Martis Chappell was paid on Saturday, September 28, 2000 at the Martin Temple A.M.E. Zion Church 6930 S. Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60637. The Reverend Lester A. McCorn was the Officiant. Roy was a devout Christian who loved God, his family and his Church. He was a long-term member of Martin Temple A.M.E. Zion Church and guided the building of the current Martin Temple Church. He was a faithful, committed member of the Trustee Board, and he loved the Martin Temple Church Family.Roy was always committed to Youth. He was a Sunday school teacher for 22 years and served as Sunday school superintendent for 10 years. He was a member of the Burnside Local School Council for six years. He was an ardent supported of the Tuskegee Airmen’s Young Eagles Program which provides youth ages 7-17 free introductory flight provided by the group’s cadre of volunteer private pilots. He encouraged students to consider a career in aviation by experiencing flight for themselves.
Roy was president of the Chicago DODO chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen for 9 years, one of the most active in the nation. Roy has won many civic awards; some of the last ones were:
- The Humanitarian Award for the Young Eagles Program from the Experimental Aircraft Association, 2002:
- The National Leadership Award from Phillips Petroleum Co. at EEA Air Venture Convention in Oshkosh, 2001:
- The Merrill C. Meigs Spirit of Flight Award, 2002 for Preserving and Improving the Endangered Lakefront Airport: and;
- History Makers Award (including Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee), 2002.
Roy has influenced awards over the years including the most recent TAI organization’s highest honor, the prestigious Brigadier General Noel Parrish Award and the National President’s Award (never had anyone ever received these two awards at the same time).
Our Peaceful Eagle, Roy Martis Chappell, was a loving husband, father and grandfather. He was a man who cared about children. Roy was a man of excellence, a determined, proud man. He was a man of STRONG FAITH. He was a man who gave a new meaning to the word, INSPIRATION. He was a man who led by example. He was a true survivor. Roy was an Officer and a, Gentleman.”
Source: Family biography
OTA William R. Thompson
Born on January 26, 1916, Lieutenant Colonel William R. Thompson was born in the Wiley Avenue section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of a prosperous caterer. His mother died when he was fourteen days old.
Thompson received his B.S. in business administration from Hampton University in Virginia. During his senior year, he became a licensed pilot and entered the service in 1940 as one of the first African American aviation cadets admitted to the U.S. Army Air Corps. These cadets were later known as members of the 99th Squadron of the Tuskegee Airmen.
As part of the 99th Squadron, Thompson served as an armament officer under the guidance of Benjamin Davis. He also served as unofficial photographer for the 99th Squadron and parts of his collection now reside in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
OTA Shelby F. Westbrook
In World War II, 2nd Lt. Westbrook gradated from pilot training at Tuskegee Army Airfield on February 8, 1944 (class 44-B) and was attached to the 99th Fighter Squadron, which had the distinction of being one of the first all Black units formed by the Army Air Corps. Promoted to 1st Lt., he served in the 332nd Fighter Group from July 1944 to May 1945. Total service: 4 years active, 6 years reserve.
He served as a United States Air Force fighter pilot in the European theater where he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 5 Clusters, the Presidential Unit Citation, the 15th Air Force Certificate of Valor and 5 Battle Stars. During the war, Lt. Westbrook flew many combat missions over 12 different countries on the European continent including one where he was shot down over enemy territory. He obtained one confirmed victory on October 4, 1944.
After the war, Mr. Westbrook obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electronics and was employed as an Electrical Engineer at W.R. Grace & Co., a major manufacturing facility that made packaging machines. There, Mr. Westbrook designed various types of electronic control circuits and is listed as the co-inventor of a revolutionary patented processing system that utilized a controlled vacuum as the primary packaging system that is still in use today.
Shelby Westbrook took a trip in 2007 to Washington, DC to accept a Congressional Medal from our Government. He frequently is asked to speak at colleges and corporate functions. He is active in his Tuskegee chapter and has co-authored two books regarding the Tuskegee Airmen.
His message for youth is: “Turn off the television & video set, life is not a game. Learn to read and develop y our abilities with a skill or a profession!”
OTA Robert L. Martin
First Lieutenant Robert L. Martin was born in Dubuque Iowa. He joined the Army Air Corps at Tuskegee in 1944. He carried out 63 ½ combat missions with the 100th Fighter Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group. On March 3 1945, he was cut down by ground fire following his attack mission on an enemy airfield in Zagreb,Yugoslavia. His plane on fire, he was forced to bail-out over enemy held territory. Rescued and helped by allied sympathizer, he succeeded in escaping capture. He remained in Yugoslavia for 5 weeks until he was sucessful in returning to Italy first by truck and then by airplane. For his combat service Lt Martin received: The Distinguished Flying Cross; The Air Medal with 6 Oak leaf clusters and The Purple Heart.
WWII Veteran: Welton I. Taylor
A descendant of President Zachary Taylor, world-renowned scientist and educator Welton I. Taylor was born in Alabama in 1919. Shortly afterward, his family moved to Chicago, where his performance at DuSable High School inspired local African Americans to sponsor his undergraduate education in bacteriology at the University of Illinois. Taylor served in the first all-African American division to enter into combat in World War II.
An avid genealogist, Taylor has detailed his family history and ancestors on both sides of his family, explaining his multiethnic heritage. In discussing his genealogical research that allowed him to discover his African American roots, he talks about one of his cousins, the famed blues songwriter W. C. Handy. He also describes his family’s migration from Alabama to Chicago, which was prompted by threats from the Ku Klux Klan. In multiple interviews with “The History Makers”, OTA Taylor describes the challenges his parents faced after they moved from Alabama to Chicago, including facing the Great Depression. In these interviews he vividly recounts the Chicago race riot of 1919, which occurred a few months before his birth. Taylor explains how two of his relatives were nearly beaten to death. Taylor then shares examples of how his father’s advice helped him as a child.
Welton studied the sciences of microbiology and bacteriology at the University of Illinois. He also participated in ROTC while at Uof I which led to his being commissioned as a second lieutenant following graduation. Stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma where he was the only black officer there he faced numerous confrontations with racism and discrimination, including being forced to ride in segregated railcars and confrontations with white officers who did want to command black troops. He was introduced to aviation & soloed while at Fort Sill and it was there that he also contracted hepatitis from a contaminated needle.
He was later transfered to Fort Custer in Michigan where he completed his pilot’s instruction and began intelligence training. He was subsequently transfered to Fort Huachuca, Arizona where he served as a flight instructor while preparing for overseas combat. Overseas, OTA Taylor flew reconnaissance missions at Guadalcanal and recounts a visit from famed pilot Charles Lindbergh. During his History Makers interviews, he recalls his adventures flying in Papua New Guinea during World War II, explaining his non-combat missions and his favorite planes to fly. He then recounts his return home to the states, got married and enrolled again at the University of Illinois this time in graduate school under the G.I. bill. The G.I. Bill enabled him to return to his alma mater for both an M.A. and Ph.D. in bacteriology.
Taylor was appointed bacteriology instructor at the University of Illinois in 1948. He promptly discovered that common antibiotics could treat gas gangrene and tetanus, dangerous conditions that affected war victims. In 1954, the Chicago meatpacking firm Swift & Company recruited Taylor to tackle an outbreak of salmonella poisoning in baby food. He standardized his successful approach to this problem and exported it to labs worldwide. In subsequent years Taylor helped Chicago-area hospitals, healthcare organizations and government agencies address an array of health problems. On a sojourn abroad from 1961 to 1962, he collaborated with prestigious British and French scientists. Upon returning to the University of Illinois, Taylor developed methods of bacteria detection that the Food and Drug Administration relies on today. In 1985, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta named a bacterium, Enterobacter taylorae, in honor of Taylor and a British colleague.
Taylor has received numerous awards and grants and his prodigious list of publications continues to influence scientists. In 1960, he founded the Chicago chapter of the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity, and he remains active in community organizations. Taylor welcomes opportunities to lecture on recent health issues that concern him, increases in STDs and HIV. He and his wife, Jayne, whom he married in 1945, have two daughters, Karyn and Shelley.
Biographical Interviews conducted by The HistoryMakers®
OTA William Loving
In 1922, the year William Loving was born, his father worked as a chauffeur for a family in the village of Oak Park (the Chicago suburb made famous as the home of Frank Lloyd Wright and birthplace of Ernest Hemingway). “The hospital in Oak Park wouldn’t treat colored people,” says Loving, “so my father had to drive my mother to a hospital in Chicago.” Loving grew up in the city and graduated from Hyde Park High School in 1940.
After graduation Loving worked for a wholesale jeweler in Chicago, addressing envelopes (“I answered an ad in the newspaper looking for a young man with neat handwriting,” he says), and attended college classes at night. He also joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps reserves, where he was trained to repair radios.
One evening in early December 1941, his class was interrupted by someone who rushed in and announced that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. “We all stood up and sang ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’” Loving remembers.
As a member of the reserves, Loving was called into service with the Army and sent to Salt Lake City for basic training. Given an unchallenging job forwarding mail – and later working as a supply clerk – Loving dreamed of bigger things. Hoping to become a pilot, he took the Army Air Forces exam for aviation cadets and passed. Before he could begin aviation training, he was sent to the Tuskegee Institute to take college courses in subjects such as math and science. “That was the best time of my life,” Loving says with a smile. “All the boys had gone into the service, so it was a campus full of girls.”
After completing his courses Loving was sent to Tuskegee Army Air Field for preflight training, beginning his affiliation with the Tuskegee Airmen. His regimen was extensive: He traveled to Florida for gunnery school, where he trained as a nose gunner in a B-24 bomber. “I was too big to fit in the turrets,” he says, “so I sat behind a Plexiglas shield in the very front of the plane, with two 50-caliber machine guns. It was exciting.”
In Texas he trained as an aerial navigator and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army, then went to bombardier school, where he helped train Chinese nationalist cadets by observing them on bombing runs.
Then came a bureaucratic mix-up that brought home a sobering reality. Loving, along with seven other African American officers, was mistakenly classified as white and transferred to the Air Transport Command at Wright and Patterson fields (the two fields later merged to become Wright-Patterson Air Force Base) near Dayton. “They didn’t want us there,” Loving remembers. “All we did was fly just enough hours to get our pay – they didn’t assign us any other duties. When we went into the officers’ mess hall, none of the white officers wanted to sit with us. They wanted to keep us segregated. So one day, we went in, and each of us sat at a different table. In order to eat, the white officers had to sit with us.”
After a few months, Loving and his fellow African American officers were transferred to the Army Air Forces 477th Medium Bombardment Group at Godman Field in Fort Knox, Ky. Although the group was never called to active duty overseas, Loving and the bomber crews flew numerous training missions and performed at air shows. “We were showcased,” says Loving. “We would land at different bases, and the black soldiers would be brought out to meet us. We wanted to show that there were black airmen who did everything the white airmen did.
“When Japan surrendered, Loving and his crew were in California on maneuvers. “On our way back home,” Loving says, “we flew through a rainbow that was a complete circle. I’ve never seen anything like that before.” That rainbow remains his clearest memory of the end of the war.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Northwestern in 1954 on the Chicago campus, Loving took education courses at the Evanston campus in order to receive a teaching certificate. He taught high school accounting in the Chicago Public Schools for 25 years, retiring in 1993.
Loving didn’t leave aviation behind completely. After the war he served in the Air Force Reserve, eventually reaching the rank of captain and flying in and out of what is now Chicago O’Hare International Airport, where his son would often come to meet him. Loving’s son – also named William – is now a pilot for US Airways, for which he flies overseas routes out of Philadelphia.
The fact that an African American can work as a pilot for a major airline is in part a legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. “After the war the first major move toward desegregation in American institutions happened in the military,” says Martha Biondi, associate professor of African American studies and of history. “The Tuskegee Airmen demonstrated the heroism, courage and skill of African American military pilots. Pro-segregation white congressmen had tried to block their assignment overseas, questioning their capacity and intelligence. But the Tuskegee Airmen performed brilliantly and won numerous awards and medals. As war heroes who returned to face segregated America with a new resolve and determination to fight, they paved the way for the modern civil rights movement.
Loving remains involved with a Tuskegee veterans group in Chicago. Their legacy lives on, he says, through the Young Eagles program, an initiative to introduce children to the world of powered flight. “The Tuskegee Airmen are still flying,” he says. “I know five or six guys who own their own planes, and they take up boys and girls who have never flown. They carry on the tradition.”
OTA Lawrence O. Clark
OTA Theodore E. Moran
OTA Laverne A. Shelton
OTA Richard B. Highbaugh
OTA Benito Smith
OTA Quentin P. Smith