Flt Officer Thomas Lawson Hawkins
November 18, 1923 – March 7, 1945
Graduation Date: May 23, 1944
Graduation Rank: Flt Officer
Unit: 332nd Fighter Group, 100th Fighter Squadron
Service # T-063113
Thomas Lawson Hawkins was born in 1923 in Springfield, Massachusetts and moved to Glen Rock with his parents, William and Rebecca, when he was a young child. The family lived in several homes over the years, residing on Hamilton Avenue and Broad Street before settling on Dean Street around 1941.
Hawkins was very bright and athletic and had a gift for vocal music. He attended Central School, Glen Rock’s new Junior High School on Harristown Road, and Ridgewood High School (as most Glen Rock students did at the time), graduating as a member of RHS Class of 1942.
In high school, Hawkins was a member of the track and football teams and of the Glee Club and A Capella Choir. His family attended the Mt. Bethel Baptist Church on South Broad Street where he sang in the Junior Choir. He attended Temple University’s School of Chiropody in Philadelphia, determined to become a podiatrist, but it was a time of war and a college degree would have to wait. On March 17, 1943, Hawkins enlisted in the Army Air Forces and began his training to become one of World War II’s famed Tuskegee Airmen.
The recruits enlisted into a program that was ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt over the objections of his top generals. The program’s goal was to train African-American men to fly and maintain combat aircraft. This was a revolutionary concept for a country that was still deeply segregated, especially in the South where much of the flight training was to take place.
Both of Thomas’ parents were born in Virginia so perhaps Cadet Hawkins was not as shocked as some of the other northern recruits when they first encountered Jim Crow laws while traveling to basic training in Mississippi and Alabama. Union Station in Washington, DC was the demarcation line for many; at that point in the journey, the train conductor forced all black passengers to move to a designated car, which was the dirty, smoky, smelly car directly behind the coal car. Tuskegee Airman Maurice Thomas, a native New Yorker, told author J. Todd Moye, “I’ll tell you the God’s honest truth: when I got into the South, I thought I was in a loony bin.”
In November 1944, Flight Officer Hawkins was assigned to the 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group, and by January 1st he had 28 missions and three kills to his credit. He was awarded the Air Medal and Oak Leaf Cluster in early 1945 for bombing missions against German trains carrying supplies to the Russian Front. Soon after, he was named flight leader of his group and was in command of a squadron of nine pilots. He named his P-51 Mustang “Gloria” after the woman he married in Alabama on Christmas Day in 1943.
On March 7, 1945, Flight Officer Hawkins was killed taking off from the Ramitelli Airdrome in Italy when his plane crashed on the runway during a mission to Munich. He was 21 years old. Fellow Airman Harold H. Brown, a classmate of Hawkins, recounts the accident in his book Keep Your Airspeed Up: “I remember vividly [a] takeoff accident involving a fellow classmate, Thomas L. Hawkins. During the takeoff roll out, Hawkins lost control of his aircraft and ran into a revetment area that provided a barricade of protection for other planes. He crashed into one of the parked planes, resulting in an explosion. Men in the area raced to his aid, but couldn’t get close due to the heat.”
When he crashed, Hawkins was in an unfamiliar plane. The “Gloria” experienced engine trouble that morning so he switched to a different airplane in order to complete his mission.
Thomas Lawson Hawkins is buried or memorialized at Valleau Cemetery, Ridgewood, New Jersey.
Glen Rock History