LTC Jack Daniels Holsclaw
March 21, 1918 – April 7, 1998
Graduation Date: 7/28/1943
Unit: 332d Fighter Group, 100th Fighter Squadron
Service # 0809243
Tuskegee Airman Jack Daniels Holsclaw was born in Spokane, Washington, on March 21, 1918. His father, Charles, was a clerk in a downtown store, and his mother, Nell, was a manager at Pacific Telephone and Telegraph. Holsclaw attended North Central High School in Spokane, where he excelled both academically and athletically. When he was 15, he became the first black person in Spokane to earn the Eagle Scout badge.
Holsclaw entered Whitworth College in 1935 but transferred to Washington State College (now Washington State University) in 1936 to play baseball. Beginning in his junior year, he played center field and helped the Cougars finish as co-champions of the Northern Division, Pacific Coast Conference. He was the second African American earn a varsity letter in baseball at the college.
In 1939, Holsclaw transferred to a chiropractic program at Western States College in Portland, Oregon, where he met his wife, Bernice Williams. They had one son, Glen. Holsclaw completed the chiropractic program in 1942 and passed the Oregon state board examination.
While there, he enrolled in a government sponsored Civilian Pilot Training Program at Multnomah College and earned his pilot’s license.
On October 5, 1942, he enlisted in the army as a private and, following an army delay, entered flight school. He trained at Tuskegee Army Airfield, Alabama, a black flight-training program and received his wings and commission on July 27, 1943. Upon graduation he was granted leave and went to Portland, Oregon, to marry Bernice Williams. Following the wedding the couple relocated to Michigan, where Lieutenant Holsclaw received advanced training at Selfridge Field near Detroit. In December 1943 his squadron was shipped overseas to Italy. Bernice Holsclaw returned to Portland and stayed active in voice training and in programs to advance interracial understanding.
Lieutenant Holsclaw flew in the 100th Fighter Squadron, 332d Fighter Group, which became known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Initially
the 332d flew Bell P-39 Airacobras and protected ships and flew coastal patrols. Then the squadron upgraded to Republic P-47 Thunderbolts. In July 1944 it received the more powerful North American P-51 Mustang. Holsclaw named his favorite P-51 “Bernice Baby” in honor of his wife. The 332nd aircraft had distinctive red tails lending to the nickname “Red Tails.” Bomber crews honored the Tuskegee airmen by naming them “Red Tail Angels.” The 332d Fighter Group took on the task of escorting bombers on their runs over enemy territory and shielding them from German fighters.
Lieutenant Holsclaw had his most memorable aerial battle on July 18, 1944. That day the 332d Fighter Group composed of four squadrons with 16 P-51s each was providing protection for Boeing B-17s bombers making bombing runs on German targets. A German fighter force of nearly 300 fighters attacked the bomber formation. The 332d fighters skillfully protected the bombers. Three squadrons stayed with the bombers while Lieutenant Holsclaw as flight leader of his 100th Fighter Squadron engaged the German fighters. In the battle 11 German planes were shot down. Lieutenant Holsclaw shot down two Messerschmitt 109s (Me-109s). The effective 332d Fighter Group reaction allowed the bombers to hit their targets.
For his actions Jack Holsclaw was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In a ceremony on September 10, 1944, at the 332d air base in Ramitelli, Italy, Lieutenant Holsclaw had the Distinguished Service Cross pinned on. Three other black pilots receiving the medal included Colonel Benjamin Davis Jr. (1912-2002), commander of the 332d Fighter Group. His father, the first black army general, pinned the medal on his son and on the others. Colonel Benjamin Davis Jr. had graduated in the first Tuskegee Army Airfield flight training class. He would go on to be the first black general in the United States Air Force.
In the picture above taken at Ramitelli, Italy, Lt. Holsclaw was presented the Award by General Benjamin Oliver Davis, Sr. who was the first African-American general officer in the United States Army. Also receiving the DFC Award that day were Col. B.O. Davis, Jr, son of the General and commander of the 332nd Fighter Group (The Tuskegee Airmen), Capt Joseph Elsberry and Lt. Clarence Lester. If you have seen The Tuskegee Airmen or Red Tails you will know that these men were the real heroes who were portrayed in those movies.
In December 1944 pilot Holsclaw had completed 68 combat missions, so nearing the limit of 70 when he was grounded. The group commander took him off flight duty to guard against battle fatigue and stress. Lieutenant Holsclaw became the Assistant Operations Officer, an important administrative position that included aerial mission planning. In January 1945 Holsclaw was promoted to captain.
The 332nd achieved fame for its success in escorting bombers over enemy territory. It flew in seven major missions and did not lose a single bomber. Jack Holsclaw was most proud of this accomplishment.
Captain Holsclaw returned to the United States in June 1945 to serve as assistant base operations officer, Godman Field, Fort Knox, Kentucky. That month Army Air Forces Chief General of the Army Henry H. “Hap” Arnold (1886-1950) sent Colonel Benjamin O. Davis to Godman Field to bring the black 477th Bombardment Group to combat readiness for action against Japan. The 477th had training issues due to racism and racial conflict. General Arnold replaced the white commander with Colonel Davis and directed that other white officers also be replaced with blacks. Colonel Davis brought along effective officers such as Jack Holsclaw to rebuild the 477th. Although they quickly improved the 477th they could do little regarding racism at the base. Captain Holsclaw would move with the bomber group to Lockbourne Air Base near Columbus, Ohio, in March 1946. The bomber group was inactivated in 1947.
Holsclaw went on to teaching and training duties. He was an instructor at the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs at Tuskegee Institute and then Tennessee State College, Nashville. For his Japan assignment in 1954-1957, Bernice was able to accompany her husband. He achieved success in Cold War training and in educating young air force personnel. From May 1962 to the end of 1964 he served as Chief, Training Division, Sixth Air Force Reserve Region, Hamilton Air Force Base, California. He directed the preparation of two textbooks to guide incoming air force personnel.
Holsclaw made a career of the military accepting a commission after the war and staying on until his retirement on January 1, 1965, Lieutenant Colonel Holsclaw retired and received the Distinguished Service Medal for his training accomplishments. During that time, Holsclaw served in Korea, Japan and Vietnam and taught ROTC. He became a manager in the Marin County Housing Authority, California. In 1973 he and Bernice fulfilled their wish to return to Washington. Jack Holsclaw joined the staff at the People’s National Bank, Bellevue branch, on the corner of NE 8th Street and Bellevue Way. This career extended until 1984 and permanent retirement, when Bernice and Jack took up residence in Tucson, Arizona.
In August 2019, the Jonas Babcock Chapter, NSDAR, dedicated a historical marker in the memory of Lt. Col. Holsclaw at the site of his childhood home in Spokane.