Pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group are known for independent thinking, tough talking and take-no-guff attitudes. 

At the age of ninety, Lieutenant Colonel Washington Ross displays such characteristics times ten, which may explain why his all-black combat unit, popularly referred to as the Tuskegee Airmen, bears the distinction of being the only fighter group to have lost none of the bombers they were protecting, to enemy fire.

“Affirmative action?” he chuckles, shaking his head.  “We had no such thing!  We had to pass the same tests, meet the same college requirements of any of the other trainees, regardless of race.  By that time, I already had a pilot’s license and a degree from Hampton College and just between you and me, I thought the Tuskegee entrance exam itself was pretty easy; if I couldn’t pass it, I didn’t belong in the Aviation Cadet program to begin with.  But I went right along with the others and complained about how hard it was.  When we got the results back, there was my test, right on top, with the highest score.”

From there, Ross was transported to Africa, and from there to Italy where he flew patrol first in P-39s, then in P-47s and finally in the legendary P-51 Mustang.  In total, Ross flew sixty-three combined missions and sorties.

At war’s end, Ross became a B-25 instructor and later, an employee of Ford Motor Company.  His most impassioned memories, however, are of the twenty-nine years he spent with the Detroit Board of Education, both as a teacher and a department head.  The veteran of countless escort missions over Nazi Germany maintains, “Hey, if you can survive the Detroit school system, you can survive anything.

The cultured, educated, still feisty and quick-witted pilot is now a resident of an American House Senior Living residence in Southfield.  He displays, among his collection of vintage model aircraft, the Air Medal and American Defense Service medal along with the prized Congressional Gold Medal which was awarded, a trifle late, in 2007.

He maintains a remarkable sense of humor despite a life many of this generation would consider tough, including the passing of his beloved wife Willie Pearl in 2003.  It’s a sense of self-worth and personal pride, instilled in him by his parents, which saw him through some of the hardest racial attitudes that existed in the United States military in the 1940’s.

“What did I care what they thought,” he says with a defiant shrug, “so long as they let me fly.”




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