Charles Roach
Class: 45-F-TE
Graduation Date: 9/8/1945 
Unit: 477th Bombardment Group,
Service # T70431 

“You can’t fight your way up to the top with your fists. You can with your character.”

At the beginning of 1939, the year Roach turned fourteen, there were only twenty-five licensed African American pilots in the entire country. Roach attended racially integrated Boston public schools. When he graduated from Mechanic Arts High School, a venerable institution several miles from his home, in 1943, he knew little of the political machinations on the part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other black institutions that had recently forced the U.S Department of War to open a military flight training facility in Tuskegee, Alabama, for African Americans. He just knew that he wanted to fly. “That’s when I found out that there was this unit being established at Tuskegee Army Air Field to train black pilots,” he said. Before then it had “never crossed my mind that there were no black military pilots. I figured, you know, airplanes were airplanes” and could be flown by anyone with the desire and ability to learn how to fly them. Roach, who considered himself as patriotic and gung-ho about military service as any other American teenager, began devouring reports from the Tuskegee program that he found in the black newspapers in his neighborhood barbershop. Six months after his seventeenth birthday, in June 1943, Roach gathered up his birth certificate, his diploma, and a letter from his parents giving him permission to join the armed forces, and set off for the recruiting station in downtown Boston to enlist in the Army Air Forces (AAF) for flight training. “What would you like, sonny?” a white sergeant at the station asked him. Roach answered that he had come to join the AAF. The sergeant explained to him, not unkindly, that the AAF was not accepting black recruits but that he was welcome to sign up for service in the infantry. Roach started to argue with the sergeant based on what he had learned from the newspapers, thought better of it, and left. He went to nine other recruiting stations in greater Boston and was rebuffed at each one. Roach started to wonder if he wasn’t being discriminated against. “I was kind of surprised because after reading the African American newspapers and all the other papers.

 

On his tenth attempt he was finally scheduled for physical exams at Fort Devens. Roach passed the exams, was assigned to a training class at Tuskegee, and received a train ticket to Biloxi, Mississippi, where he would first undergo basic Army training at Keesler Field.

Charles J. Roach graduated in class 45-F-TE at Tuskegee Army Air Field, his advanced training was in a twin-engine aircraft (TE) and that he graduated in the sixth of the 1945 classes, which would have been in the middle of 1945, after the war in Europe ended. As a twin-engine graduate, he would have been assigned to the 477th Bombardment Group, which in 1945 was stationed at Godman Field, Kentucky, and briefly at Freeman Field, Indiana. By the end of the year, the group had become all-black, and its commander was Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr, the Tuskegee Airmen who had formerly commanded the 99th Fighter Squadron and later the 332d Fighter Group in combat overseas. The 477th Bombardment Group, however, never went overseas during World War II, and never entered that conflict.

Be sure to read FREEDOM FLYERS, an inspiring account of the Tuskegee Airmen–the country’s first African American military pilots.

Sources:
Daniel Haulman, PhD, retired USAF historian
Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB, Alabama

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