The following article first appeared in “IPS School News,” the district newsletter for Indianapolis Public Schools, as part of the district’s Tribute to Black History Month and the great contributions made by the famed U.S. Army Air Corp’s first unit of African American combat pilots —known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
By Julie Severson
Walter J.A. Palmer will never forget the bulletin announcement that came over the radio on December 7, 1941: “We interrupt this program to announce that Japanese aircraft bombed our military and naval bases in Hawaii.”
The next morning, instead of going to work, Palmer went promptly to the United States Army Air Force recruitment office and volunteered for aviation cadet training.
“I wanted to see if I could do something about it,” Palmer said.
Due to prevailing racial segregation, black military aviators were trained at an isolated training complex near the town of Tuskegee, Alabama, and at Tuskegee Institute.
On June 30, 1943 at 10 a.m. Palmer graduated from the Institute with flying colors. His legacy as original member of the Tuskegee Fighter group that changed the face of America’s armed forces was about to begin. At 3 p.m. that same day, he married his sweetheart, Agneta.
“This was the most memorable day of my life, and I will remember the details as long as I am alive,” Palmer wrote in his book: Flying With Eagles.
Palmer, who will be guest speaker at IPS’ upcoming Black History Month Celebration on Friday, Jan 17, was regarded highly by his peers, flight leaders, operations officer and Squadron Commander for his excellent plotting skills and was quickly promoted to First Lieutenant of the 100th Squadron.
Despite racist attitudes, hostility and doubt by white officers and politicians regarding their competency as black pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen proved themselves as competent military professionals with their magnificent wartime record during World War II. These courageous men flew 15, 553 sorties, completed 1,578 missions and never lost a bomber to enemy aircraft that they escorted.
In November of 1944, Palmer flew his last mission—158 in all. During a visit home to meet his first born child, Palmer severed his left eye in a car accident and was released from the Air Corp on medical discharge.
Palmer, along with his beloved bride, now has four children, eleven grandchildren and three great grandchildren. He is also the first vice-president of the Indianapolis Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., a non-military and non-profit entity that motivates and inspires young Americans to become participants in our nation’s society and its democratic process.
“One of the reasons for forming this organization was to inform the succeeding generations of our trials and triumphs so that they will have role models to guide them in their search for a better life.” Palmer said.
“Aim for as high as you can,” he tells them.