Claude Alexander Rowe, Jr
July 7, 1921 – September 20, 2018
Captain Claude A. Rowe, Jr., was the only member of the group to have flown for both the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Army Air Corps/U.S Air Force.
Claude was born in Detroit on July 7, 1921. He was a student at the Lawrence Institute of Technology during World War II and left college during his second year to serve his country as a pilot.
Because Rowe was black, he was not eligible to fly in the Army Air Corps. Instead, he went north, to the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he earned his wings in 1944. During World War II, at least 8,800 Americans trained as pilots and a small number of them happened to be black.
The RCAF, as part of the British Commonwealth, was a major contributor to the RAF’s success, if not survival, training almost 50,000 pilots and more than 87,000 other aircrew during World War II.
In late 1944, with the war was drawing to a close and Americans were being sent back to the AAF or discharged, Rowe came back to the U.S. in September 1945 and joined the Army, this time as part of the Tuskegee Airmen Experiment, a segregated unit. Rowe earned his wings in June 1946 and qualified as a twin-engine pilot and flew bombers such as the WB-50 and B-29. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the last pilot training class to graduate at Tuskegee.
With a surplus of pilots at the end of World War II – many with long and distinguished combat records – anyone who wanted to stay in had to expand their skill-set, so Lieutenant Rowe trained as a weather officer, first at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and then at Chanute Air Force Base, Ill.
The Weather Officer school was one of the most difficult in the service, with coursework at the first-year graduate-school level. Serving as a weather officer and flying when possible, he served mostly overseas including Austria and twice in the United Kingdom, first as a weather officer at the Burtonwood Depot and later as a WB-50 pilot with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron.
By 1958, with no combat time or college degree, he was passed over for promotion to Major, so he enlisted as a weather forecaster and retired in 1964 as a Captain.
Rowe talked about his experience in the segregated military in a 2009 community essay in The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Capt. Rowe was a part of history again as one of the Tuskegee Airmen able to accept the invitation to attend President Obama’s inauguration activities.