Major Levi Thornhill
September 12, 1922 – September 10, 2020
“Give them (youth) motivation, if the mind is excited about something, it explores it more.”
~Tuskegee Airman Levi Thornhill
Levi was born September 12, 1922. He entered the Army Air Corp. training at aircraft mechanic school in Lincoln Nebraska, then specialty training school at Chanute field in Illinois. From there he went to Selfridge. It is here that his Commander, Edward Gleed, told his class that if they wanted to stay together, they would need to become crew chiefs.
All 13 of the class stayed together. In January 1944 Thornhill went to Ramitelli Base in Italy, as a crew chief for the all-black 332nd Fighter Group, Thornhill was in charge of making sure the planes were kept in the best possible shape for combat. While racist policies shaped and limited his early years in the military, he said it was easy to keep a clear head about the Red Tail missions while in Italy.
At that time, they were still flying P-39 and P-47s. From there they went to Ramitelli. By the end of June, the P-51s had arrived.
In January of 1946 Major Thornhill was stationed at Lockbourne with the 477th composite group. It was there he became a flight chief and later Squadron inspector.
After his original service ended, Thornhill re-enlisted in the Army because he couldn’t find another job. The re-enlistment eventually turned into an Army career, during which he saw a multitude of changes, including the desegregation of the military.
Major Thornhill retired from Nellis Air Force Base in 1965. He then worked for Bonanza Airlines as a factory representative and assistant to the vice president of Maintenance engineering. He also worked at Hughes Airlines as an aircraft engineer retiring in 1981.
Major Thornhill was very instrumental in sharing his experiences as a Tuskegee Airmen and helping the Legacy to live on.