Roscoe J. Dabney Jr.
December 28, 1922 – September 8, 2018
Graduation date: 9/8/1945
Unit: 477th Bombardment Group
Service # 0843244
Roscoe J. “Bub” Dabney was born on 28 December 1922 to Roscoe and Charlotte Dabney in Lakewood, New Jersey. He graduated from Lakewood High School, Lakewood, NJ, in 1941. He lettered in baseball and football all four years of high school but his true passion was music. He sang, played the drums and was affectionately known as the “Lakewood baritone.” Captain Dabney entered a number of amateur competitions in the tri-state area and even appeared on the Arthur Godfrey talent show. He made it to the finals however, he came in second place as he was beat out for first place by Anthony Dominick Benedetto, known professionally as the legendary crooner Tony Bennett.
On 3 December 1942, Mr. Dabney enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps. The testing was rigorous and he tested three times, passing each time but was not called to report to Tuskegee. There was no explanation. Later, however, Mr. Dabney found out that the Army was using a quota system with Blacks entering the Army Air Corps. On 24 December 1943, he received word to board the train to Tuskegee, Alabama to begin aviation cadet training. The first time he was met with blatant discrimination was while traveling to training. Just outside Washington, D.C., he and fellow cadets were forced to move to segregated railroad cars before reaching their destination in Florida.
Captain Dabney was still training when the Allies landed at Normandy and a month after the United States forced Japan to surrender by dropping two atomic bombs on the country. In 1945, he graduated from Midland, Texas Army Airfield. He was assigned to the 477th Bombardment Group as a B-25 Bomber Pilot but remained stateside throughout the war. Captain Dabney left the military in 1946.
After the war, Captain Dabney flew Blimps as a Civilian Pilot for the United States Navy. He also returned to his first love, music, joining the Paul Gravelle Jazz Trio as a singer and drummer. On 16 Jul 1965, Captain Dabney married the love of his life, Brenda Herbert.
Captain Dabney completed his education at Rutgers University and took additional courses at Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey). In the late 1960’s, he worked at Camp Kilmer, on the Rutgers Campus, in the Vocational Center. He went on to begin a 23-year career as the Coordinator of Industrial Education with the Mercer County Vocational Technical School.
At community events and speaking engagements, Dabney was more reserved but always became very animated speaking about his service and had a special talent for teaching kids.
During an interview about receiving the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007, Dabney said officials threw his first Army flight school application in the trash.
“When I first applied, the sergeant giving the exam laughed and said, “You’ll never fly, boy,’” Dabney said during the interview. “I wish I could see him today.”
When Dabney was finally admitted into training, he bounced to different training centers and was forced to take the flight school test five times even though he passed on his first attempt. In 1943, Dabney was preparing to ship out as a bomber pilot when the war reached an end.
“I didn’t go overseas, but I was shot at right in this country,” Dabney told the newspaper about an incident when a stranger shot at him and a fellow Airmen during training in Selma, Alabama.
In spite of societal challenges, Dabney believed America was the best place a person could be, and served to protect his country and the rights of its citizens, said Dabney’s daughter, Denise Stevenson. Growing up, Stevenson’s worldview was shaped hearing about the experiences of her father and his fellow servicemen.
“It gave me just a different view of my country and my dad,” she said. “And the struggles he went through and still saw the hope and the light for the country.”
Other memories related to Dabney’s service were more pleasant: attending the inauguration of President Barack Obama, and speaking with school and community groups to encourage children to get involved in community service.
Once, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst’s air show, Dabney and other family members got to sit in one of the planes he piloted during the war.
“He just sat in the cockpit and I sat next to him,” Stevenson recalled. “And everything came back to him, he started talking about the different controls.”
As the family disembarked from the plane, they found a line of people eager to shake Dabney’s hand, listen to his stories and thank him for his service. Stevenson said that wasn’t uncommon for her father, who always wore his Tuskegee Airmen baseball cap with pride.
As important as Dabney’s service was to history, his family, and his life’s story, Stevenson said it was just one part of what made her father her personal hero.
When she was growing up, Dabney came to every one of his daughter’s swim meets, coached her basketball team and umpired during her baseball games. Stevenson said he acted like a stay-at-home, full-time parent, even though he continued his military service for a time and also worked in industrial education.
“My dad was definitely a unique person,” Stevenson said. “He’d always say he was a renaissance man taking photos around the city … He could build anything with his hands, he had an amazing (singing) voice.”
He took the family on road trips, splashed around with his children in the family swimming pool, and provided support and unconditional love.
Dabney and his wife, Brenda, were married 20 years when they moved to Willingboro, where they raised Stevenson and her sister, Lisa Dabney. The 33-year Willingboro resident was happy in the township, Brenda Dabney said.
“He just loved living in Willingboro,” she said. “He loved people in general, (but especially in Willingboro).”
Around the neighborhood, Dabney would join his kids and their friends for large-scale snowball fights, and would pitch during kickball games to help keep the teams even. He loved entertaining neighbors and sharing stories.
“He was a giant among men,” his daughter said.
Burlington County Times