Serving at a time when the American Army was segregated, the Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American aviators in America. The 332nd Fighter Group and the 99th Pursuit Squadron were the only Black groups that fought in World War II and were considered highly successful despite facing discrimination in and out of the army.
Charles Blakesly Hall would become the first of the famous Tuskegee Airmen to shoot down an enemy airplane during World War II. At a time when many thought African-Americans lacked the skill, intelligence and courage, Hall proved them wrong and would become a war hero who helped his country dominate the air space over foreign lands during the war.
Born on August 25, 1920, in Brazil, Clay County, Indiana, USA, Hall grew up during the Great Depression. He was the second child of Franklin Hall, a kiln-burner from Mississippi, and Anna Blakesly Hall, also from Mississippi. While many African-American children were at the time forced to attend inferior schools, Hall attended Brazil High School, where he excelled at various sports. After graduating in 1938, Hall went to Eastern Illinois University. There, he majored in Pre-Med and was active in sports. He worked as a waiter while attending college.
In 1941, Hall, after three years of college, enlisted as an Aviation Cadet, Air Corps, United States Army, at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Lawrence, Indiana. He would later become part of the group of African-American airmen that would be known as the Tuskegee Airmen. They were first trained at the Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama, an all-black college which Booker T. Washington established in 1881.
Initial flight training was conducted at Moton Field, a few miles away. With the war taking shape in July 1941, Tuskegee Army Air Field was established and the training changed to create fighter pilots. The first fighter pilots graduated on March 7, 1942, forming the 99th Pursuit Fighter Squadron, a part of the 332nd Fighter Group. Hall was commissioned as a second lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, on July 3, 1942.
Hall, of the 99th Fighter Squadron, would make history the following year at the age of 22. On July 2, 1943, he was on an escort mission of B-25 medium bombers on a raid on Castelvetrano in southwestern Sicily, Italy. He shot down the German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger while in a P-40, making him the first Black airman among the Tuskegee Airmen to shoot down an enemy aircraft during World War II.
He narrated: “It was my eighth mission and the first time I had seen the enemy close enough to shoot him. I saw two Focke-Wulfs following the bombers just after the bombs were dropped. I headed for the space between the fighters and bombers and managed to turn inside the Jerries. I fired a long burst and saw my tracers penetrate the second aircraft. He was turning to the left, but suddenly fell off and headed straight into the ground. I followed him down and saw him crash. He raised a big cloud of dust.”
Hall destroyed a Focke-Wulf Fw 190,¹ the most effective Luftwaffe fighter of World War II, according to This Day In Aviation. For his victory, General Dwight Eisenhower congratulated Hall in person. Hall became the first African-American to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in World War II. He flew 198 missions over Africa, Italy, and other areas of the Mediterranean and Europe, as stated by tuskegeemuseum.org.
He was still in the service after the war and retired from the Air Force at the rank of Major. Hall, after his service, worked at Tinker AFB (Tinker Air Force Base) in Oklahoma and then headed to the Federal Aviation Administration. He later married, had two children before his passing on November 22, 1971. On June 18, 2002, the Tinker Heritage Airpark was renamed the Major Charles B. Hall Airpark in his honor.