On March 7, 1942, the first class graduated from Tuskegee Army Air Field as US Army Air Corps pilots. The class had started with 13 cadets but eight washed out of the rigorous training. The five who remained had accomplished something that no black man had ever done before.
Who were those guys from Class 42-C anyway?
Davis died on the Fourth of July, 2002 of Alzheimer’s disease. During his funeral ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, the Red Tail Project’s P-51C Mustang participated in the honorary fly-over. Click here for more information about General Davis and pictures of his funeral cortege and the flyover.
2nd Lt. Lemuel R. Custis from Hartford, CT
After the Tuskegee graduation ceremony, Custis was assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron and flew 92 combat missions in the P‑40. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism. He later returned to Tuskegee as an advanced flight instructor and was released from active military service from the U.S. Army Air Force in 1946 with the rank of Major. He returned to Connecticut and worked in state government. Custis was the last surviving member of the first Tuskegee Airmen class when he died in 2005.
After the war ended, he returned to Indiana, earning Master’s degrees from Butler University in Indianapolis and Indiana University in Bloomington. He taught high school English and was also associate lecturer in English at Indiana University/Purdue University. He and his wife had seven children. He died in 1986.
After the armed forces was desegregated in 1948, Roberts became the first black officer to command a racially mixed unit at Langley AFB. In 1950, he was assigned to Korea where he commanded the 51st Air Base Group and the Air Force base at Suwon. He had a 26-year career in the military where he amassed more than 6,000 hours of flying time. He retired with the rank of Colonel in 1968 and went to work in the banking industry in California. He retired from that career in 1982 and died in 1984. A bridge in his hometown is named after him as is the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. chapter in Sacramento, CA.
After the March graduation, he led the 100th Squadron as it was activated in May, 1942. In July 1943, he became its Group Operations Officer (the Squadron was now based at Selfridge Field in Michigan). He died on June 10, 1944 but circumstances regarding the cause of death remain elusive to a general researcher of modest ability. The Dayton (OH) chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. is named after him.
A small group of five men, all of whom were patriots in heart and pioneers in fact.
The CAF Red Tail Project is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Minnesota Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.