A Tuskegee Airmen from St. Louis, MO: Captain Hugh J. White

It was 35 years ago today that the life of a brave African-American man from St. Louis, Missouri, (MO) ended. His name was Captain Hugh J. White, and he was a Tuskegee Airmen.

Riviera Beach high schoolers meet the United States' first black military aviators, the Tuskegee Airmen photo

Tuskegee Airmen Charles Hill, second from left, with fellow pilots (l-r) Hugh White, Lincoln Hudson and Carl Ellis, taken in 1944 in Alabama. Courtesy of Charles Hill.

 

You might recognise St. Louis, MO and places like nearby Ferguson, MO from the news as of late, but not for the great accomplishments of its citizens, rather for the seemingly never-ending division among between people of different races. The actual Ferguson case aside (because I do not know enough about it to comment intelligently, nor do I want this post to draw any more attention to a topic that has had more than its share), It is my goal, that we, as a community, as members of the human race, spend more time considering the things we share in common and discussing the positive contributions that are made by all people. That is not to diminish the importance of such issues of racial division, because they are of the utmost importance. It is simply, that I would like to see the focus move in a different direction.

On December 14th, 1979, Captain Hugh J. White, passed away. Yes, it was 35 years ago this very day. An anniversary worth noting I believe. Captain White was a veteran of the United States Army Air Corp and a famous Tuskegee Airmen, who began his decorated career as an Aviation Cadet.

Captain White was born on August 24th, 1922 in St. Louis, MO. As he did with nearly everything in his life, he approached his high school years with nothing short of expecting complete excellence from his efforts. As a young teenager at Charles Sumner High School, he did just that; he excelled. He was voted by his peers to be president of his class and earned top grades and graduated as a member of the National Honour Society.

His plans, like many young men growing up in wartime, changed quite suddenly. His initial plans were to attend Stowe Teachers College and pursue a worthwhile career. However, as events in Europe grew more dire, it became apparent that every able-bodied young man must rise to challenge and answer the imminent call of duty to country and homeland. It was in January 1943 that he volunteered for the United States Army Air Corp. Not long after, Captain White was sent to Tuskegee, Alabama for his initiation and training.

Captain White graduated as part of Class 44-F, and because of his own high standards and insistence upon personal excellence, he graduated at the top of his class. He was then sent to the European Theater of Operations to participate in the war in Italy. He became a pilot assigned to the 99th Pursuit Squadron of the 322nd Fighter Group, and in the course of his dedicated service, earned 190 combat hours and flew 35 combat missions.

Photograph shows, first row: 1. Hugh J. White, St. Louis, MO, 44-F; 2. Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Commanding Officer, 332nd Fighter Group, Class 42-C; 2. Conrad A. Johnson, New York, NY, 44-G; 4. Thurston L. Gaines, Freeport, NY, 44-G; 5. Robert W. Williams, Ottumwa, IA, 44-E; 6. Lewis J. Lynch, Columbus, OH, 44-F; 7. William T. Matison, Conway, AR, 42-I. Second row: 1. Rual W. Bell, Portland, OR, 44-D; 2. Elbert N. Merriweather, Jr. Brooklyn, NY, 44-G; 3. John H. Lyles, Chicago, IL, 44-G; Leland H. Pennington, Rochester, NY, 44-G; 5. unidentified; 6. unidentified; 7. James H. Fischer, Stoughton, MA, 44-G; 8. George Arnold Lynch, Valley Stream, NY, 44-F; 9. Rupert C. Johnson, Los Angeles, CA, 44-F. Image and caption credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Toni Frissell Collection.

 

On April 23rd, 1945, whilst flying his 35th mission, Captain White’s P-51 was shot down by anti-aircraft fire whilst escorting B-24s on a bombing mission over Italy. He survived but was captured and became a prisoner of war. Though no doubt both trying and difficult for him, he survived his ordeal as a POW. Thankfully, while White was in captivity, the Second World War in Europe finally drew to its conclusion and hostilities ceased. White was soon released and repatriated with his unit.

Captain White received an honourable discharge and eventually returned to his beloved homeland safe and sound, and he went home to St. Louis, MO. Never one to be without a goal, he applied to and was accepted to the Cleveland Marshall Law School (in Cleveland, Ohio). He graduated from law school, passed the Missouri bar exam, and his practice specialised in criminal law.

Not unlike high school, Captain White was again elected by his peers, though this time to the Missouri Legislature where he served as a State Representative. He was first elected in 1961, and in 1963, his constituents re-elected him to be their State Representative once again,

Captain White was a key figure in the organisation of the St. Louis Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen before his death in 1979.

scan painting Hugh J. White Tuskegee Airmen P51 Pilot St. Louis

For his dedication, determination and bravery, and for action against the enemy, Captain White was awarded the Purple Heart. Captain White and the numerous other Tuskegee Airmen, fought alongside their fellow American airmen, for the rights and freedoms that all of us enjoy today.

On the 35th anniversary of his death, we owe a great deal of gratitude, not only to Captain White and his compatriots, but to all who fought in World War II.

–  By Marcella Beaudreau

 

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