John J. Suggs
October 8, 1915 – October 10, 2013
Class: 43-E-SE
Graduation date: 5/28/1943
Rank at time of graduation: 2nd Lt.
Unit: 302nd Fighter Squadron
Service # 0804561
From: Terre Haute, IN

John Jacob Suggs was born in Slaughters, Kentucky on October 8, 1915. He attended Garfield High School in Terre Haute, Indiana and Indiana State University, earning his Bachelor of Science in 1939.

After his graduation from Indiana State University, Col. Suggs briefly worked at Terre Haute Malleable, pouring iron while he took classes in graduate school at Indiana State University, and while he also completed his Primary and Secondary Civilian Pilot Training. He then became a Junior Aviation Instructor, at the U.S. Navy Teacher Training Center in Chicago, Ill.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Suggs volunteered for the Army Air Corps. Despite having his private pilot’s license, his application was not accepted because of his African-American heritage. This heritage did not prevent him, however, from being drafted. Suggs utilized his knowledge of military regulations and declined to be sworn into the regular army, since he had already volunteered for the Air Corps. Subsequently, after the War Department organized a segregated Air Corps branch, he volunteered again and this time was accepted for pilot training at Tuskegee, Alabama in 1943, and began an Air Force career of over 25 years.

Col. Suggs was assigned to Europe as a fighter pilot with the 302nd Fighter Squadron where he flew missions in the P-40 Warhawk, the P-47 Thunderbolt and the P-51 Mustang, and completed 391 fighter combat hours in 70 missions in the European Theatre (twice the number required of white pilots before they were rotated home). He participated in major 12th and 15th Air Force campaigns, escorting Allied bombers deep into Europe and saw action near Salerno, Italy including over the Anzio beachhead and Cassino Abbey. On D-Day in 1944 he flew bomber cover near Toulon, France. During his 52nd mission over Zagreb, Yugoslavia, anti-aircraft fire extensively damaged the tail of his plane. Nevertheless, he successfully completed his mission.

Wartime service was followed by assignments at Lockbourne, AFB, Ohio and Johnson AFB, Japan. During the Korean War he flew numerous logistical support flights to Korea while stationed in Japan.

Initial contact with the DC area came with assignment as Professor of Air Science at Howard University from 1952-57. In this position he directed the training and education activities of the Reserve Officers Training Program.

His next assignment (1957-58) returned him to flight operations as Flight Commander in a KB-50J Squadron at Langley AFB, Virginia. While at Langley he flew in “Operation Mobile Zebra,” a major exercise that tested the tactical ability to deploy fighter aircraft non-stop across the Pacific Ocean using aerial refueling from KB-50J tankers.

Col. Suggs spent the next three years (1958-61) at RAFB Sculthorpe, England as Squadron Commander of the 47th Air Base Squadron. Upon his return to the US, he became the Director of Personnel and Deputy Commander for Services at Glasgow AFB, Montana (1961-1966). He then spent a year (1966-67) as a Commander of the 377th Service Squadron at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Republic of Vietnam, and before his retirement in 1968 he served his final year as Chief of Alert Management, 99th Bomb Wing SAC, Westover AFB, Mass.

Col. Suggs was a Command Pilot and served in three wars. A great source of pride for him was that he never lost a man under his command. His awards and decorations include the Air Medal with six oak leaf clusters and the Air Force Commendation Medal. He also earned numerous unit and campaign ribbons.

After his retirement from the Air Force he initially served as President and General Manager of Fairmicco, a company established by Fairchild-Hiller Corporation and the Model Inner City Community in Washington, D.C. From 1969-78 he served as the Associate Director of Resident Life at the University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland.

In 1977, Indiana State University recognized him with its Distinguished Alumni Award.

Col. Suggs served as the founding President of Tiber Island Cooperative Homes located in Southwest Washington, D.C. along the waterfront and across from the Arena Theater. As a volunteer, he led 400 tenants at Tiber Island in forming a cooperative and purchasing their units. This was a $26 million dollar project that took three years to complete and was the first of its kind in the city. A plaza in the center of the Tiber Island complex with a fountain in a reflecting pool is dedicated to Suggs for his volunteer leadership.

Col. Suggs was a founder of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. He was the first President of the original chapter (The East Coast Chapter) and the first President of the national organization. This organization is dedicated to preserving the history and legacy of these pioneering Black military airmen. There are now more than 50 chapters nationwide. Col. Suggs was among the Tuskegee Airman collectively awarded a bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal presented by President George W. Bush in March of 2007.

Sources:
Darrell Morton Jr
Dignity Memorial
Washington Post Obituaries

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