If you’ve seen the 1999 hit movie “October Sky” then you might be familiar with the Rocket Boys, the teenagers from West Virginia who were able to change their destiny through science and determination. In 1957, after being inspired by the launch of Sputnik, Homer Hickam, Jr. and his friends, against all odds, designed and built their own rockets… and landed the highest prize at the National Science Fair AND college scholarships that lifted them from a life of coal mining to the halls of NASA.

The Rocket Boys still work together to inspire people of all ages. (From left Jim O'Dell, Homer Hickam, Billy Rose and Roy Cooke)

The Rocket Boys still work together to inspire people of all ages. (From left Jim O’Dell, Homer Hickam, Billy Rose and Roy Cooke)

Jim O’Dell was one of the original Rocket Boys. After graduating high school, O’Dell enlisted in the Air Force, and earned a degree at Colorado State University following his time in the service. He’s no stranger to overcoming adversity; there were few opportunities for young men in the town he grew up in, and going to work in the mine was tough work, and expected. With a passion for rocket science and the will to better his future, O’Dell and his friends learned all they could about rocketry, eventually dazzling their hometown after having to convince everyone, maybe even themselves, that they had the brains to launch their homemade rockets thousands of feet into the air.

O’Dell has reached out to the CAF Red Tail Squadron with his pledge of support for our mission and our majestic P-51C Mustang. He knows that it’s a collective effort to keep our warbird safely in the air, and he wanted to support our work, and our mission to honor the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. He’s belonged to our donor ranks for some time now, but wanted to make a pledge specifically for the new paint the Mustang greatly needs.

Recently, O’Dell and his family visited the Tuskegee Airmen Monument in Walterboro, South Carolina. It marks an important final training stop at the then Walterboro Army Airfield where the airmen received the final stages of combat training before shipping off overseas.

“The memorial was beautiful, astounding,” said O’Dell. “I’ve been a donor to the CAF Red Tail Squadron for a long time, and I know these important old planes are worth preserving. Seeing this memorial made me remember what a brave group of men the Tuskegee Airmen were.”

Because O’Dell also served in the Air Force, he personally knows there is something special shared by the service’s band of brothers. He credits the military for changing his life, and can empathize with how the brotherhood of the Tuskegee Airmen changed not only their own lives, but set the stage for positive change for generations to come.

When asked if he would encourage other folks to support the CAF Red Tail Squadron? “Yes, God yes!” he answered emphatically. “That P-51 needs to keep flying. The Tuskegee Airmen are classic, and we need to continue to support them and their legacy.”

O’Dell overcame the weight of his own adversity, and knows sharing the history of the Tuskegee Airmen can inspire others to do the same. “Don’t let an obstacle get in your way,” he said. “If you’ve got a fire in your gut, do it. Whatever it is that you love, do it, no matter what.”

photo 2

Jim O’Dell with “honorary Rocket Boy” Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. launching rockets at their Rocket Boys Festival, held each October in Beckley, West Virginia.

October Sky was adapted from the book Rocket Boys, a memoir written by Hickam and first published in 1998. Both are sources of great inspiration and a timeless story of important life lessons. Like our Guiding Six Principles, much can be achieved if you AIM HIGH and NEVER QUIT.



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 www.redtail.org.


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