Capt. Robert W. Williams, an original Tuskegee Airman. Courtesy Mrs. Joan Williams

September 21, 1922 – September 8, 1997
Class: 44-E-SE 5/23/1944 2nd Lt. 0830797 Ottumwa, IA
Unit: 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group
Pilot roster listing
Virtual Museum, see photo of “Escape kits” (cyanide) being distributed to 332nd Fighter Group

Robert W. Williams was born in Ottumwa, Iowa on September 21, 1922. His father became a pilot and encouraged his sons to learn. They were three of only 102 black licensed pilots in the USA at that time. After Pearl Harbor, Bob attempted to enlist in the Army Air Corps but was turned down because he was black. He persisted and when the “Tuskegee Experiment” got underway he was admitted to the program. He graduated third in his class. and joined the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group. On 31 March 1st Lt. Williams used “Duchess Arlene” to shoot down two Nazi FW-190 fighter planes during an escort mission to Germany. Here is the report from that day:

31 March 1945: The 332d Fighter Group conducted a fighter sweep and strafing mission against railroad and other targets in the Munich area of southern Germany. (332d Fighter Group mission report number 252) During the mission, twelve members of the group shot down a total of 13 enemy airplanes, including FW-190s and Me- 109s. The victors included 1st Lt Robert W. Williams, who shot down 2 FW-190s, and Maj William A. Campbell, 1 st Lts Roscoe C. Brown, Earl R. Lane, and Daniel L. Rich, 2d Lts Raul W. Bell, Thomas P. Brasswell, John W. Davis, James L. Hall, Hugh J. White, and Bertram W. Wilson, Jr, and Flight Officer John H. Lyle, who each shot down one enemy aircraft. (Fifteenth Air Force General Orders 2292 and 2293 from 1945) Three 332d Fighter Group P-51D pilots were reported missing that day, including 2d Lt. Arnett W. Starks, Jr and 1st Lt. Clarence N. Driver of the 100th Fighter Squadron, and 2d Lt. Frank N. Wright of the 99th Fighter Squadron. Driver went missing at 1315 hours over northern Italy probably because of low fuel. Wright went into a spin while in pursuit of the enemy at 1420 hours over Landshut, Germany. Starks was hit by enemy antiaircraft artillery at 1430 hours over Voklammerkt, Germany. (332d Fighter Group mission report number 252 and Missing Air Crew Report numbers 13211, 13212, and 13216). 1st Lts. Robert W. Willliams and Bertram W. Wilson Jr., both of the 100th Fighter Squadron, each earned a Distinguished Flying Cross for heroic actions on this day. (Fifteenth Air Force General Order 3484 dated 29 May 1945).

1st Lt. Robert W. Williams (just to the right of centre) is all smiles after returning from the 31 March 1945 mission during which he shot down two Nazi fighters.

In 1952, Captain Williams wrote down his experiences as a fighter pilot and spent 43 years pitching his story and was turned down by every movie and Television studio until home box office accepted the project in 1995. It became a worldwide success and earned 3 Emmy awards, a Peabody, a Cable Ace and 2 NAACP Image Awards

When the movie “Tuskegee Airmen” aired Los Angeles Times television critic Howard Rosenberg called “Tuskegee Airmen” “the latest in a string of historical pearls.” It starred Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Andre Braugher. Fishburne played Hannibal Lee, a character loosely based on Williams.

Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated, which honors the accomplishments and perpetuates the history of African-Americans who participated in the Army Air Corps during WWII, added the Captain Robert W. Williams Military Award to its National Military Awards.  It is open to active component, reserve or guard members serving in any Branch of the US armed services and goes to a company grade officer who has exhibited outstanding performance in both professional and community service.

As for The Duchess Arlene on static display outside the front gate of the 132d, it was Bob’s airplane made famous in the movie.  He named it after a girlfriend he had written to while in flight training and she sent him a glamour shot of herself inscribed “Your Duchess Arlene.”  She was Arlene Roberts, with her own trailblazing story.


The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at


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