Robert Lee Maxwell
APRIL 5, 1922 – AUGUST 27, 2010
Graduation date: 10/16/1944
Rank at time of graduation: Flt. Officer
Unit: 477th Bombardier Group
Service # T66407
From: New York NY
Robert Maxwell never got the chance to fly a combat mission in World War II.
A member of the Tuskegee Airmen Class of 1945, he finished his B-25 bomber flight training in September, less than a month after Japan surrender ended the war.
“When I was growing up, I was always interested in airports, read all the books. Made the model planes, went out to the airport,” Maxwell stated. He had two ambitions as a young man — to be an airplane pilot and to be an engineer.
He attended City College of New York and received a BS in Mechanical Engineering and completed Civilian Pilot Training to earn his commercial pilot’s license. He was hired as an Installation Engineer by the Aeronautical Division of Curtis Wright Corporation in Woodbridge, NJ. Bob joined the Army Air Corps and was trained as a Bomber Pilot (B-25) in Tuskegee, Alabama.
Maxwell got a bitter taste of segregation during his basic training at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss. After receiving news that his father had died, he was given leave to go home, told to pack his belongings and given a train ticket. But he had to catch the local bus to get to the station. Packed and waiting, he stood helpless as one bus, then another, drove past him. A third bus came, stopped, picked up a white soldier but not Maxwell. The young officer ended up walking into town, carrying all his gear on his back in the summer heat.
“Even though I was in the military, they wouldn’t allow me to get on,” he said. “Couldn’t even sit in the back section.”
After the pilots received their commissions, they were assigned to places like Kentucky and Ohio where they ran into problems finding housing off base for their families. On base, despite the fact they were officers, they were not allowed to enter the officers’ clubs.
“Even after we got our wings, we were still subject to Jim Crow,” Maxwell said.
After the war, Bob returned to Wright Aeronautical and worked on the design and development of turbojet and ramjet engines. He completed his MS in Mechanical Engineering, at Stevens Institute of Technology and later received an MBA from UCLA.
Bob was a propulsion system engineer in the aerospace industry with Wright Aeronautical, The Marquardt Corp, and Williams International. He was Director of the Office of Systems Engineering for the US Department of Transportation, Transportation Manager for the Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress, Marketing Representative for the General Electric Company, Vice President of Superior Engineering & Electronics, owner of Rancho Printing in Encinitas, and an Instructor of Entrepreneurship and Transportation Planning at UCSD Extension.
He served on the Board of Directors of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, the San Diego Air and Space Museum, and on the University Council at California State University, San Marcos. He also served on the Transportation Committee of the City of Oceanside, the City of San Diego Airports Advisory Committee and was President of the San Diego Regional Transportation Technology Alliance.
Bob was President of the San Diego Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen and later served on its Board of Directors. He received the Congressional Gold Medal for his service during World War II.