Historical Context of “The Tuskegee Airmen Experience”

In 1984, television news anchor Tom Brokaw went to France to make a documentary commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy (D-Day) during WWII. Enraptured, fifteen years later and following hundreds of personal letters and interviews, Brokaw wrote The Greatest Generation, a representative cross-section of the stories he came across. This collection however, is more than a mere chronicle of a tumultuous time, it’s history made personal by a cast of everyday people transformed by extraordinary circumstances: the first women to break the homemaker mold, minorities suffering countless indignities to boldly fight for their country, infantrymen who went on to become some of the most distinguished leaders in the world, small-town kids who became corporate magnates. It was from this era as representives this “Greatest Generation” that the Tuskegee Airmen have established themselves firmly in the history of American Military Aviation as pioneers and heroes. 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 also had an outstanding bomber escort record. Please see the the bulletin on this subject which may be accessed from our Home Page

Andrew Perez 1920 - 2003

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.

Beverly L. Dunjill 1927 - 2013

Beverly L. Dunjill

Tuskegee Airman / Business Manager
Sunrise: April 20, 1927 – Sunset: July 21, 2013

Beverly Dunjill flew his first airplane – a Piper Cub – at the age of 16, while working for and studying under Cornelius P. Coffey, founder of the Coffey School of Aeronautics located at the former Harlem Airport on 97th Ave in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Following graduation from Chicago’s Tilden Technical High School in 1945, Dunjill pursued his passion for aviation by enlisting in the U.S. Air Force.

Fighter Pilot, Leader, Consummate Professional, Role Model, Mentor and Gentleman

Bev Dunjill entered the Air Corps as an Aviation Cadet at Tuskegee Army Air Field on June 4, 1945 (Class 46C). There he underwent initial pre-flight training and completed a ground school curriculum consisting of physical education and coursework in math, physics, theory of flight, and aircraft identification. In August of 1945, he was transferred to the Tuskegee Institute campus for primary flight training and continuation of ground school under Chief Alfred Anderson and assigned the task of mastering the 175 horsepower, PT17 Stearman Biplane. Flight training consisted of dual flight instruction in the Stearman trainer learning how to climb, turn and other basic maneuvers until given his opportunity to fly solo. However, prior to completing flight training, the war ended in the Pacific and he was discharged from the military.

After returning to civilian life in November 1945, undaunted and still wanting to pursue his interest in aviation, Bev took a job working for Jack Johnson at the Harlem Airport again, this time as an aircraft maintenance man. This enabled him to continue to accumulate the flying hours needed to earn his Commercial Pilot’s license.

In September 1949, Bev re-enlisted into the now integrated U.S. Air Force, once again as an Aviation Cadet and underwent basic Cadet training at Randolph Air Force Base, San Antonio Texas. In May 1950, he was transferred to Williams Field, Phoenix Arizona for advanced flight training in the T33 and P80 jet fighters. Although he’d never flown a jet before, he picked it up easily. As he used to say, “Flying’s flying.” Shortly thereafter, Bev received his wings and graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant.

His first assignment was with the 62nd Fighter Squadron at O’Hare Air Force Base, Chicago IL, flying the F-86 jet fighter. He was later transferred to the 97 Fighter Squadron at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton Ohio. In November, 1951 Bev was sent into combat at K14 Air Base, Seoul Korea where he flew as a combat school instructor and test pilot. While deployed overseas, Bev flew 100 combat missions as a jet fighter pilot, earning two Air Medals and a Distinguished Flying Cross for meritorious flying. He returned to the United States and the 62nd BFS in June 1952 with the following qualifications: jet fighter pilot, test pilot, jet flight instrument instructor, and Operations Officer. His next assignment was at Tyndall AFB, Panama City FL, for F-86D single place all Weather Radar Interceptor Fighter training. After also successfully completing this assignment, Lt. Dunjill returned to O’Hare AFB to train new pilots and retrain seasoned pilots in the new F6–D aircraft.

In September 1953, Bev left active duty but remained on reserve status until his discharge in 1957. In 1955, Bev became the Service Manager of Plus Computing Machines, Inc. from 1954 to 1960. In 1960, Bev started Rapid Service, Inc., a sales and service office equipment company. He remained the president of his company until 1975. Not ready for retirement, in August of 1974, Bev was hired by the Illinois Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) as an Investigations Supervisor of employment discrimination claims. He was later promoted to Director of Investigations. Bev remained with the FEPC until August of 1987 when he joined Matra Transit, Inc., a firm that installs airport people moving systems. He served as Matra’s Equal Opportunity Officer (EEO) from 1988 until his retirement on April 20th, 1990. Bev then restarted the Rapid Service Company, his commercial accounting business.

Bev Dunjill touched many lives in a positive manner and served Tuskegee Airmen Inc., in a variety of capacities for more than 20 years. Most notably as First Vice President, President and President “Emeritus” of the Chicago “DODO” Chapter and as a member of the National Board of irectors of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. Bev also thoroughly enjoyed participating in speaking engagements with Community Organizations, Corporate Programs, and Educational Institutions about his service in the military and what it was like to have been a groundbreaker in military aviation. His passion however, was elementary school appearances and the Chicago Chapter’s Young Eagles Program where he could talk to kids about America’s first black military pilots. “The Tuskegee Airmen”, he used to say, “…were one of the greatest secrets of World War II, our job now is to make sure future generations never forget”.

Earl E. Strayhorn 1918 - 2009

Sunday, February 15th 2009 marked the passing of a great man. Documented Original Tuskegee Airman (DOTA), Earl Edward Strayhorn, died peacefully at age 90, at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. Services for DOTA Strayhorn were held on Friday, February 20, 2009 at the Sixth Grace Presbyterian Church. The memorial was well attended by numerous chapter members including, Shelby Westbrook, Bev Dunjill, Welton Taylor, Hilton Joseph, Milton Williams, Porter Myrick and many others. Chapter President Bev Dunjill, gave an a emotional tribute to DOTA Strayhorn on behalf of the Chicago DODO Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen. Many other organizations with whom he was affiliated also made remarks saluting the life and memory of DOTA Strayhorn.

DOTA Strayhorn was born in Columbus, Mississippi on April 24, 1918 to Minnie Lee Davis Strayhorn and Earl Edward Strayhorn, Sr. Following the loss of his father to lead poisoning in 1935, DOTA Strayhorn moved with his family from Mississippi joining the Great Migration to land in Chicago as a 5 year old boy. He grew up on the city’s South Side graduating from Doolittle Elementary School, followed by Tilden Tech High School in 1936. He received his B.A. degree from the University of Illinois in 1941.

DOTA Strayhorn entered military service as a Private two months prior to America entering the war in 1941. He later served with the Tuskegee Airmen, where he was sergeant-in-charge of establishing a Military Police Section. He also served with the 92nd Division artillery unit in Italy during World War II and left the army in February 1946 with the rank of First Lieutenant. After the war he joined the Illinois National Guard, where he led units in each of the five civil disturbances in Chicago during the late 1960’s, including the Democratic National Convention in the summer of 1968. He retired from the Illinois National Guard with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1969.

Following WWII, DOTA Strayhorn entered the first class at Depaul University College of Law and received his J.D. in 1948. On June 21, 1948 he was admitted to the Illinois bar. He was hired right from law school as a Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney, and served in that office as a prosecutor from 1949 to 1952. In 1952 he became a founding partner of the law firm Rogers, Rogers, Strayhorn and Harth. DOTA Strayhorn lectured widely on criminal issues and beginning in 1977, was an adjunct professor of criminal justice in trial advocacy for the University of Illinois-Chicago, taught as an Adjunct Professor or Instructor at Harvard University Law School, the University of North Carolina Law School, Northwestern University Law School, Emory University College of Law, Benjamin Cardozo College of Law and Olive-Harvey College.

One of his partners in the mid-1950s was noted Chicago attorney James D. Montgomery, who was then just out of law school and later became a corporation counsel under Mayor Harold Washington. According to Montgomery, “in the late 1960s, Judge Strayhorn defended one of several men accused of arson and inciting riots in the days following the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.” Montgomery also had a client in the case. “With his military background, Judge Strayhorn offered valuable insight into the work of the police and National Guard during the riots, Montgomery said.” The defense successfully challenged the credibility of an undercover police officer, and all of the defendants were found not guilty.

DOTA Strayhorn was a trustee of the Metropolitan Sanitary District from 1963 to 1970, serving as it’s president for four years and as secretary of the Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund for six years. He also served on the City of Chicago Civil Service Commission from 1959 to 1963, and was a hearing officer for the Fair Employment Practice Commission in 1969-70.

Hard-nosed but not hardhearted is how he drew his self-portrait. Lt Col. Strayhorn, who in 1991 at age 73, became the oldest sitting Criminal Court judge in Cook County. In a May 1991 article from the Chicago Sun-Time, the Judge said, “…the rigors of 21 years on the bench have not diminished my enthusiasm for a hard job which has been easier because I don’t have any axes to grind.” He decided to serve another 7 years on the bench and said jokingly, “ order to keep my wife from becoming a Criminal Court defendant.”

Following his retirement from the bench in 1998, Judge Strayhorn talked with the Chicago Tribune about the challenges of life in the black robes (of a jurist) and gave an indication of the even-keeled temperament that made him respected by both defense and prosecution. “In my 28 years on the bench, …the toughest issue I faced, was finding the punishment I felt was appropriate,” he said. “A judge is not society’s avenging angel. A judge should not go into a revenge mode.” But, he admitted, “vengeance is human nature, so when I was disturbed or angry, I postponed the sentencing.”

DOTA Strayhorn is survived by his loving wife of 65 years, Lygia; son, Donald; daughter, Earlene; granddaughter, Lauren; grandsons, Jordan and Amman and other relatives and a host of dear friends.

In a January 2003 interview with “The HistoryMakers®”, Judge Strayhorn commented then that “he ‘was’ too young to ponder his legacy, but wants to be remembered “as a person that was fair and just and called them as he saw them, regardless of the outcome.” Judge Strayhorn was elected to both the National & Cook County Bar Association’s Halls of Fame in 1997.

John W. Rogers Sr. 1918 - 2014

As we gathered under a tent at Chicago’s Lincoln Cemetery to pay tribute to legendary pilots Bessie Coleman, Willa B. Brown and Janet Harmon,the blue sky was slightly overcast with high scattered clouds that promised a small chance of afternoon rain. Organized by chapter pilot Rufus Hunt; on Saturday, May 1st, the Chicago Chapter of TAI conducted its 31st Annual Salute to these pioneering female aviators. Fortunately, the late rain limited to a sprinkle, only dampened the grass rather than our mood. It turned out to be a good day and our spirits were brighter than the sky.

The program was initiated by Civil Air Patrol Cadets from Thornwood High School. Commanded by recent graduate, 1st Lt. Harding who marched the cadets ¼ mile from Lincoln’s administration building to the program site, posted the colors, then withdrew to join the other program attendees under the tent. The Invocation was delivered by Chapter Member Alcus Cromartie followed by an excellent program introduction from our Mistress of Ceremonies, Ms. Aida Abraha. Ms. Abraha also provided recognition of our OTAs in attendance, Mr. Bev Dunjill and Milton Williams. The program was also attended by descendants of Georgia Coleman (Dean Stallworth, Jr., et al), Bessie Coleman’s youngest sister.

We were then given a gracious welcome by Ms. Diane Nowak, General Manager of Lincoln Cemetery, representing our organizational partner and host. Ms. Nowak discussed essays on Bessie Coleman and other pioneering aviators prepared by students

from the Kipling elementary school. Their essays focused on why the program is so important to the youth of our community in that it helps ensure that the legacy of these aviatrix is never lost. Ms. Nowak reminded us that both Bessie and Willa Brown are interred at Lincoln and noted that a memorial to Janet Harmon, who is buried in Arizona; will be provided for next year’s ceremony.

Lewis Addison representing the Bessis Coleman Branch of the Chicago Public Library system; read a resolution from Congressman Danny K. Davis, who noted the legacy of these famous aviators and their pioneering contributions to the field of aviation. Tributes were then provided by Ms. Stacy Letton on the legacy of Willa Brown and Ms. Sandra Campbell, on the legacy of Bessie Coleman.

Ms. Letton presented to us how through the combined efforts of Willa Beatrice Brown and Cornelius R. Coffey, they contributed to the pre-WWII training of approximately 200 of the some 2000 aviation students who went on to become Tuskegee Airmen pilots. Ms. Letton also discussed how Chicago became the nucleus of Black Aviation during the 1920s and 30s.

Influenced by the aviatrix Bessie Coleman, Willa Brown started taking flying lessons in 1934 and in 1937 she became the first African-American woman to get a commercial pilot’s license. After relocating to Chicago from Gary, IN, she became a member of the Challenger Aviation Club, the Air Pilot’s Association, and the Chicago Girls Flight Club. Also in 1937 she purchased her own airplane and co-founded the National Airmen’s Association of America (NAAA) with her husband, Cornelius Coffey. The Association’s goal was to promote African-American aviation.

Ms. Letton also told us that Willa was instrumental in establishing the Coffey School of Aeronautics. And in doing so, she fulfilled Bessie Coleman’s long standing dream of a black owned private flight school. As the president of the Chicago branch of the NAAA, Willa led a successful fight to integrate African Americans into the U.S. Army Corps.

Promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, Willa became the first African American officer in the Civil Air Patrol. She was a member of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Women’s Advisory Board and became the first African American woman to earn a commercial pilot’s license. Willa added still another first to her prestigious career when in 1946 she became the first African American woman to run for Congress.

In 1941, she became a training coordinator for the Civil Aeronautics Administration and a teacher in the Civilian Pilot Training Program. At the outset of WWII, Ms. Brown was the first black woman to hold a commission in the U.S. Civil Air Patrol.

The following year, she became the first African-American member of the Civil Air Patrol. She also promoted aviation on the radio and taught it in high schools. In 1972, Brown became a member of the Women’s Advisory Committee on Aviation in the Federal Aviation Agency.

Bessie Coleman_1921 French Pilot’s License
Bessie Coleman 1921 French Pilot’s License

Sandra Campbell, who is a member of the Heart of America chapter of TAI, provided a superb presentation which she calls, “Follow Your Dreams”, based on the life of Queen Bess. The audience was enraptured by her historical depiction of the life of the legendary aviatrix. The metaphors she used, such as her passion for “purple jelly beans”, provided good lessons on life skills, so important for the many young people in attendance. “Success” she told them, “develops when preparation meets opportunity.” Speaking as Bessie, she recalled how with help from Robert Abbott Sengstake who encouraged her to go to night school to learn how to speak French, told her “you can do it Bess.” And so with financial support from Sengstake and the money she earned as a hairdresser in 1920 Chicago, she traveled to France where in 1921, she became the first African American woman to earn her pilot’s license.Relying also on the wisdom learned from her Native American father who told her, “don’t take no for an answer”; because “remember Bess, every no you encounter only brings you closer to a yes”. Her father, discouraged by racism in early twentieth century Texas, left the family when Bessie was still a youth to find a better home for them among his own people. He told them that Jim Crow didn’t live in Indian Territory; his last words to young Bessie were, “follow your dreams.”

Ms. Campbell has been telling the “Bessie Coleman Story” around the country since 1995. She says that she is in the Aviatrix Willa Brown in flight suit_1938process of training and mentoring her successor and looking forward to retiring from

her public speaking career in the near future. If you haven’t seen one of her presentations, look for a video clip of “follow your dreams” on the chapter website (, by the end of June.

Following the presentation by Ms. Campbell, pilots from the Chicago and Detroit Chapters of Tuskegee Airmen, made several in-formation flyovers of the event. At about 500 feet and buffeted by a 20 knot wind, a flower drop over the gravesite of Bessie Coleman was made by Chicago pilot Rufus Hunt. The two 3-ship formation included Chief Pilot Ken Rapier flying a Piper Cherokee, Victor Croswell also flying a Piper Cherokee, Marvin Williams flying a Piper Warrior, Juan Haygood (Detroit), flying a Gruman Tiger and Robert Bejna and Rufus Hunt, both flying Cessna 150s.

The cost of the event was offset in part, thanks to the efforts of chapter members Sheila Chears-Webber, Sonjia Hall and Patricia Allen, who managed our merchandise sales operation.

John S. Sloan, Sr. 1918 - 2000

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, 2000, 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”

Robert L. Martin 1919 - 2018

Robert Leander Martin was born February 9, 1919, in Dubuque, Iowa, the third son of Dr. Henry Ambrose Martin, a podiatrist, and Mattie (Ducano) Martin, a homemaker. He was the sixth of nine children. Robert passed away peacefully on July 26, 2018, at home and in the care of family members.

Robert, also known as Bob, had a gregarious soul, zest for life, sense of adventure and curiosity,sharp mind, quick wit, and quest for honesty and accuracy that propelled him through life. Bob earned Boy Scout merit badges as a Lone Scout due to threats and opposition from other families. Bob’s interest in golf was sparked while working at a golf club. Bob also skied, was a ski jumper, traveled, and otherwise followed his curiosity.

Robert graduated from Dubuque Senior High School. He then earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University at Ames. While at Ames, Bob earned his pilot’s license through the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Bob “Fox” Martin was a fighter pilot with the Army Air Corps during World War II. One of the Tuskegee Airmen, Bob received his wings in 1944 and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. He served with the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group, in the European Theater of Operations. One of the “Red Tails;’ Robert flew single engine planes, including the P-51 Mustang, on long range bomber escorts and strafing missions to destroy enemy resources.

During his 64th and final combat mission in March of 1945, Bob’s plane was hit by ground fire while strafing the aerodrome at Zagreb, Yugoslavia (now Croatia). Forced to parachute from his burning plane, Bob was rescued by and spent the next 5 weeks with the partisans and at an allied mission before he could make his way back to his base at Ramitelli, Italy. Service Medals include the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, and the Air Medal with 6 Oak Leaf Clusters. Bob was honorably discharged in 1945, by then a First Lieutenant. In the Reserves, he rose to the rank of Captain.

After the war Bob moved to Chicago, where he met and courted Odette Ewell. Married in 1950, Bob and Odette raised four children. Family being of primary importance, Bob showered his children with attention.

Following numerous rejections, Bob finally secured a position as an electrical engineer with Chicago’s Bureau of Electricity. There he planned and supervised street light installations. Having risen to the management position of Electrical Design Engineer, Bob retired after 37 years of service.

Bob was an early member of the Chicago “DODO” Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. (CDCTAI) in the 1950’s. Throughout his life, Bob devoted countless hours to preserve the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen and to promote interest in aviation careers. He served as the organization’s treasurer and Bob spoke to youth and community groups about his experiences as an original Tuskegee Airmen combat fighter pilot as well as his personal experiences before and after the war. He also helped organize scholarship fundraisers and volunteered with the Young Eagles Flight program, which provides free introductory airplane flights to youth ages 8 – 17.

An avid golfer, over time Bob golfed in all 50 states. He was also a member of the Divot’s Golf Club, holding many offices. Bob earned certificates in computer programming, embraced the mastery of his smart phone, and learned about Google Earth and drone videos.

Robert was a voracious reader of military aviation history, the Smithsonian magazine, National Geographic magazine, and various engineering journals. The Crossword and Jumble puzzles were daily staples.

For years, Robert could not resist designing and sewing his own elaborate costumes for CDCTAI’s annual “DODO’s” Mardi Gras Ball. He and his wife traded literary and other quotes, endlessly amusing themselves. More recently he put pen to paper to write more of his own poetry and participated in his residents’ poetry group. He also worked extensively (with a co-author) on a yet unpublished book about his life, insisting on accuracy always.

Robert was humble, but garnered many civilian honors, the most notable being the Congressional Gold Medal (2007) as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, and his entry in the US Congressional Record (June 10, 2013). Dedicated to family and community, Robert also mentored numerous family members, and others.

Robert was preceded in death by four brothers: Clarence, Henry, Thornton, and Joseph; and three sisters: Lillian, Vivian (Smith), and Hettie (Stevens). Bob leaves to cherish his memory: his loving wife of 68 years, Odette Martin, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, City Colleges of Chicago, and his four children, Robert Martin, Jr. (Philadelphia), Gabrielle Martin (Denver), Noelle Martin (Chicago), and Dominique Martin (Olympia Fields); his grandchildren, Robert Martin, III and Bradley J. Martin; a devoted sister, Delores Owens; and a host of nieces, nephews, grand and great grand nieces and nephews, other relatives, and friends.

Tuskegee Airman Robert L. Martin 100th FS, 332nd FG

Roy M. Chappell 1921 - 2000

Roy Martis Chappell began his flight on September 16, pill 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:

1) The Humanitarian Award for the Young Eagles Program from the Experimental Aircraft Association, 2002:

2) The National Leadership Award from Phillips Petroleum Co. at EEA Air Venture Convention in Oshkosh, 2001:

3) The Merrill C. Meigs Spirit of Flight Award, 2002 for Preserving and Improving the Endangered Lakefront Airport: and;

4) 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

Shelby F. Westbrook 1922 - 2016

Shelby Westbrook was born in Marked Tree, a small town in Arkansas. When his parents passed away, he moved in with his brother in Toledo, Ohio. In March 1943, shortly after he graduated from high school, Westbrook enrolled in aviation cadet training at Tuskegee Army Air Field. (He’d never been in an airplane, but he knew he didn’t want to be in the infantry.) Westbrook finished pilot training in February 1944, and was sent to Selfridge Air Field near Detroit, Michigan, for training in single-engine fighter planes like the P-39 Air Cobra.

2nd Lt. Westbrook graduated 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. In July 1944, after further training in South Carolina, Westbrook was shipped to Italy with the 99th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group. On R&R, Westbrook went to Naples, Rome, and Vatican City, where his group visited the Sistine Chapel and met the Pope. As a combat pilot, he was even more widely-traveled; he flew 60 missions over 12 countries in Europe. On his 31st mission, his P-51 Mustang developed engine trouble, forcing Westbrook and his wingman to crash-land in Yugoslavia. They were rescued by a group of Marshall Tito’s Partisans and delivered to a group of British intelligence officers, led by Randolph Churchill and author Evelyn Waugh. About one month later, Westbrook was back on duty. On a strafing mission over southern France, targeting radar stations one day ahead of a planned invasion, Westbrook believed he saw a fellow pilot, Richard Macon, crash into a building near Montpelier. It happened quickly, though, and the U.S. had no detailed records of it. More than fifty years later, while doing research with French-language materials, Westbrook was able to confirm that Macon had indeed crashed into a building – a German command outpost with more than 40 officers inside.

For his service in Europe, Westbrook earned 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, with an air-to-air victory over a German Me-109 fighter in October 1944. 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.

Westbrook returned to the United States in June 1945. His plan was to attend an engineering school, but he was turned down – the director wouldn’t accept black students. Instead, he came to Chicago and earned a degree in electronics from the American Television Institute of Technology. He found work in the machine division at one of the country’s largest meat-packing companies, where he worked on vacuum-packaging technology for more than 18 years. Now retired, he is the author of Tuskegee Airmen 1941-1945, an extensive print and pictorial history of what he calls “the Air Force within the American Air Force.”

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!”

Welton Taylor 1919 – 2012

Welton Taylor had a distinguished career as a microbiologist and expert on foodborne illnesses, but he always saw himself first as a civil rights activist.

An Alabama native, Mr. Taylor promoted racial equality from the Army and college to his years in Chicago, where in the 1950s he was one of the first African-Americans in the South Side Chatham neighborhood.

“He didn’t back away,” said Chicago historian Timuel Black, whose family was close to Mr. Taylor’s. “He worked to break prejudice wherever he was.”

“He said he would always be someone who fought for civil rights,” said his daughter, Karyn.

In his career, which spanned close to 50 years, Mr. Taylor taught microbiology in medical schools in Chicago, worked with many hospitals and developed a product used all over the world today by laboratories analyzing foods for salmonella.

Mr. Taylor died of gastrointestinal cancer Thursday, Nov. 1, in his South Side home, his daughter said.

Mr. Taylor was born in Birmingham, Ala., where his father had a tailoring business. According to his daughter, he was just weeks old when his mother inadvertently learned the identity of a local Ku Klux Klan member when the man fell off a horse in front of the shop, dislodging his hood. She was told her family could be harmed if they didn’t leave town, Karyn Taylor said.

The family moved to Chicago, staying with relatives while Mr. Taylor’s father looked for work. That search took the family to Peoria, but Mr. Taylor was back in Chicago in time to graduate from DuSable High School.

Mr. Taylor went on to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, getting through with help from scholarships from the black fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi. In his senior year he became one of the first black cadets in the advanced ROTC Field Artillery Unit. He left school as a second lieutenant with a bachelor’s degree in bacteriology.

He was soon called to active duty, and a chance meeting during artillery training in Oklahoma gave him the opportunity to become an Army pilot. He flew a single-engine airplane as a liaison and artillery spotter in the Pacific.

After the war he married the former Jayne Kemp and got a master’s degree and a doctorate in bacteriology at the U. of I. at Urbana-Champaign.

Over the next five decades, he taught at Chicago-area medical schools, including the University of Illinois and Northwestern University, and was either on staff or a consultant to commercial clients and more than a dozen hospitals.

He specialized in food-related bacteriology, including salmonella and shigella. Beginning about 1954, he spent five years with what was then Swift & Co. in Chicago, where he worked for and with John Silliker. Swift had a major outbreak of salmonella in a dried egg yolk product for babies that was sold nationally.

“Welton and I found the existing method for analyzing egg yolks had been borrowed from clinical laboratory methods and didn’t work at all in food,” Silliker said.

Silliker said Mr. Taylor developed a medium for culturing and identifying salmonella. “Virtually every sophisticated lab in the world that analyzes salmonella uses (it),” Silliker said.

Mr. Taylor’s efforts to promote racial equality included working with white veterans in Urbana-Champaign after the war to integrate restaurants, movie theaters and public swimming pools.

“Welton was a hero — maybe not as heralded as some in helping to bring about change,” Black said. “But he was a leader at the level that was crucial.”

Mr. Taylor is also survived by another daughter, Shelley .

The Centers for Disease Control even named a bacterium after him and a colleague: Enterobacter taylorae.

Mr. Taylor, an alum of DuSable High School and the University of Illinois, was an expert on foodborne illness. He spent decades consulting at many Chicago hospitals, improving patient care and testing, and training lab techs. He was a consulting microbiologist at the Institut Pasteur in Lille, France, and the Central Public Health Laboratory in London, where he advised the Europeans on how to eradicate salmonella in their imported foods.

In the 1950s, when the food giant Swift had an outbreak of salmonella in baby food, Mr. Taylor was able to identify the source of the illness, according to the American Society for Microbiology (ASM).

The ASM website said Mr. Taylor might have been “the oldest living African-American microbiologist.” He joined the group in 1947, after serving in World War II as a liaison pilot — flyers who help advise the artillery on how to hit targets.

Mr. Taylor, 92, died of cancer Nov. 1 in Chicago.

Download Obituary

William Loving 1922 -

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.”

William R. Thompson 1916 - 2006

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, under the guidance of then Capt. Benjamin O. Davis; Col Thompson served as a weapons (armament officer) officer with the U.S. Army Air Force 99th Fighter Squadron of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War Two. 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.

During an interview in the summer of 2000 with the History Makers, he discusses his training at Chanute Base, seeing Eleanor Roosevelt fly with a black pilot at Tuskegee, the squadron being shipped to Casablanca and their service in North Africa, Sicily and Italy.

Donate Today

Donating allows us to continue to serve the community as well as support the up keep of the resources here on the site. If you are a potential sponsor, please use the Donor/Sponsor page to reach out to us.