Ivan James McRae, Jr.
617th Bombardment Squadron of the 477th Medium Bombardment Group
August 19, 1923 – November 29, 2016
Thank you to Brian McRae, the son of Tuskegee Airman Ivan J. McRae, for sharing this information with us!
Here is my daughter’s middle school history report from 2010 where she interviewed my dad. She titled it “A Moment in History: World War II – An Interview with a Tuskegee Airman”.
A Moment in History:
World War II
An Interview with a Tuskegee Airman
Briana R. McRae
My name is Briana McRae and I interviewed my grandfather, Ivan James McRae, Jr. for my project. He was a 2nd Lieutenant with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.
Q1: Where were you during the bombing of Pearl Harbor? A1: I was working in Harmon, NY at the New York Central Railroad Station where I had a part-time job as a baggage porter while attending Columbia University. I was down on the platform — where the trains were — when I could hear a lot of yelling and screaming up in the waiting room. I ran upstairs and they were talking about the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Q2: How did you get involved in World War II?
A2: I listened to President Roosevelt talk about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I was a freshman at Columbia University and we were told if we enlisted in the Army Air Corps and passed the Aviation Cadet tests, we would be allowed to finish college, graduate, but then would have to serve several years in the Army Air Corps on active duty. I took the tests and passed them all . There were three tests: Intelligence, Physical, and Psychological. Afterwards I was sworn in as an Aviation Cadet and put on reserve duty in the Army Air Corps and continued my school. But when I was a sophomore, the war in Europe was going so poorly that they called up all the reservists – the aviation cadet reserves — into active duty. This was in 1943.
Q3: What was your role in the war?
A3: When I was called into active duty, I had a choice: I could either be called up as an enlisted man or go to a school in Illinois to learn to be a flight instructor. The reason I couldn’t simply go into the service to become a pilot was because I was over 6’1” and all Tuskegee Airmen at that time could not be taller than 5’11” in order to fly the P-39 Airacobra. I wouldn’t fit in the cockpit of the P-39 because it had a 20 millimeter cannon that was under the seat and went through the hub of the propeller. There were no larger or twin-engine planes available for people of color at Tuskegee so I went to Chicago. In Chicago I joined the War Training Service to become a flight instructor.
After completing primary training and starting secondary flight training, we were called into active duty and finally wound up at Tuskegee Institute for training as pilots. I received my pilot’s wings for twin engine and single-engine aircraft. I was then assigned to the 617t h Squadron at Godman Field, Kentucky. I was assigned as the co-pilot on a B-25 Medium Bomber. We were learning to fly medium-level bombardment when V-E Day (Victory-in-Europe) came and we were then reassigned to fly low-level bombing in the Pacific.
Q4: What effect did the war have on your life?
A4: It allowed me to fulfill a dream: learning how to fly a plane. It also paid for my college tuition through the G.I. Bill of Rights, and it helped me to get my first job in the government military support group after college graduation.
Q5: What events stand out in your mind?
A5: When I was assigned at Freeman Field, Indiana, we officers were told that we would have to use the “Non-Commissioned Officers Club” and
the white instructors, and others on the field, would use the “Officers
Club”. Many of the pilots were captains (officers) who had flown in Europe as fighter pilots and had come back to the states and became bomber pilots and they were refused the use of the Officers Club because of their color. So we all decided we would go to the Officers Club, we would be confronted by the military police, and put under house-arrest until a protest was reviewed and adjudicated [definition: to study and settle a dispute or conflict] . We were flown back to Godman Field where we simply sat for weeks and did nothing until it was resolved and we were told “Ok, you can come back and use the Officers Club”. We went back and resumed our flight training until V-J Day (Victory-in-Japan) in 1945.
Q6: How did you feel about V-J Day?
A6: We were elated about the outcome of the war in Japan and we were relieved that we would not have to actually fly over the Pacific. At that point I decided I wanted to go back to school as soon as I could, and I was in the first group to be put on reserve duty and came home and went back to school at Columbia University. [I returned to] Columbia University under the G.I. Bill of Rights which was a magnificent program that the government had for veterans. It helped pay for my tuition and had a small subsistence payment for expenses.
Q7: Do you have any interesting facts to add?
A7: Yes. I met my wife, your grandmother, while we were stationed with the Army Air Corps in Greensboro, North Carolina. She was a student at Bennett College and we were able to go there on weekends and I met her and was immediately stricken because she was beautiful, and a magnificent basketball player, and a good student. We married four years later, after I completed my Mechanical Engineering degree at Columbia University in 1948.
Visit the Virtual Museum and be sure to read his obituary, a rare glimpse into a life of an amazing man! Also see colorized photos of McRae’s Tuskegee Airmen B-25 Mitchell Bomber crew and graduating class.