Class 43-E-SE 5/28/1943 2nd Lt. 0804551 Richmond, VA
Unit: 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group
1919 – March 18, 1944
In 1943, Clemenceau “Clem” Givings became the first person from Richmond, VA to earn his wings as a Tuskegee Airman, the popular name for black fighter pilots who helped win World War II and build the case for desegregating America’s military.
Born in 1919 and a graduate of Virginia Union University, Givings had an ambition to fly and was a natural fit for the job. Clem graduated from flight training on May 28, 1943, under the Air Force Specialty Code M 1055-Pilot, Single-Engine Fighter and deployed to Italy in December 1943. He was a member of the 332nd Fighter Group, 100th Fighter Squadron. The squadron flew its first combat mission on February 5, 1944.
A fellow officer described 2nd Lt. Givings as “strictly air corps, incorporating in his decorum all the zest, cocksureness, pride and braggadocio that is the essence of a fighter pilot’s makeup.” Even his speech sounded like “a burst of flak” from anti-aircraft fire.
As part of the 100th Fighter Squadron, Givings was stationed in Italy in January 1944, and he saw action in the months-long Allied
offensive against German forces in Anzio, south of Rome. On March 18, 1944, engine failure caused his plane to crash during a coastal patrol. Givings became one of the 84 Tuskegee Airmen to make the ultimate sacrifice. He was only 24.
According to Capt. Samuel Curtis, in an article (Veterans Magazine 2007), “We were going into battle and we were really going to show them. Then we had our first casualty.” On March 18, 1944, while flying a P-39 Airacobra on a routine mission, Clem’s plane experienced mechanical failure forcing him to eject from the cockpit, over Naples Harbor. Unfortunately, he became tangled in his parachute causing him to drown. His body was recovered by an Italian fisherman.
Per Capt. Curtis, “He was a lively kind of guy and he was the first one lost. One day we came back and they said ‘Clem got killed,’ and it came as a real shock. It was then we realized we were really in a war zone.”
Givings’ mother, Ruth, compiled a scrapbook containing memorabilia from Clem’s school days, documents related to his military career and letters he sent home.
One artifact is his Tuskegee Airmen patch, which features his unit’s insignia – a black panther breathing flames – and its “Spit Fire” motto. One of the most poignant items is the April 1944 official telegram, sent to the Givings home on East Leigh Street in downtown Richmond, notifying Ruth of her son’s death.
As the first black pilots in the armed forces, the Tuskegee Airmen had a lasting impact on the nation. With their phenomenal success during the war, they refuted racist doubts about their abilities and opened doors for black men and women in other branches of the military.
Their heroism also influenced President Harry S. Truman: In a milestone decision in 1948, he issued an executive order to desegregate the armed services.
Clemenceau M. Givings is buried at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial in Italy. He received the following: the Purple Heart (1944), the World War II Victory Medal (2003), the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (2003), the American Defense Service Medal (2003), the Army Good Conduct Medal (2003), and the American Campaign Medal (2003).
Visit the Virtual Museum to see the Western Union Telegram notification 2nd Lt. Clemenceau Givings – Killed in Action