Born to fly the skies

STEUBENVILLE – Two men who were born and raised in Steubenville and went on to become Tuskegee airmen in World War II were featured in a presentation Friday at Historic Fort Steuben as part of Black History Month by their nice, Deborah Keith of Suitland, Md.

John “Ellis” and Jerome Edwards were born in the city and lived on Main Street. After their graduation from Steubenville High School, the brothers went to West Virginia State College. “Ellis” wanted to become a dentist but both brothers enlisted in the aviation program. They completed their training at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

Lt. Jerome Edwards was a fighter pilot who flew the P-51 and P-40 planes in the 99th and 332nd Fighter Squadrons. Jerome was killed in Michigan when the engine of his plane failed during takeoff and he crashed.

Lt. John “Ellis” shot down two German fighter planes on April 1, 1945, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on May 29, 1945. He flew over Korea, Japan, Italy and Germany with the 99th and 332nd Fighter Squadrons.

Keith said she remembers an early picture of “Ellis” sitting on the steps of their house on Main Street. In the picture, he was wearing flight goggles on his head.

“We knew from the beginning he wanted to fly,” she said.

“Ellis” after the war became a radio announcer for a station in Washington, D.C., and was an avid ham radio operator.

Keith said reminiscing about the history of Steubenville brings honor and glory to the hometown. She hopes the legacy of Steubenville will result in future generations also striving to soar in academics and honor.

Also speaking during the program Friday at the fort was Ambrose Boiling of Weirton, whose uncle, George Boiling, was one of the original Tuskegee airmen.

Boiling said his uncle, born in Virginia, was a member of the first two classes to graduate and become members of the 99th Fighter Squadron.

Boiling said of the 1,000 pilots who were Tuskegee airmen, only about 500 saw action during the war.

Boiling is active in Tuskegee airmen reunions.

“It makes you feel good to be in the same room with them,” he said.

Even though the Tuskegee airmen were experienced pilots, none became commercial pilots after the war because of segregation.

Boiling showed the 20 people at the program a picture of Marlon Green who became the second African-American to fly commercial planes in 1965.

Green flew with the U.S. Air Force’s 36th Air Rescue Squadron in Japan, While on leave in 1957, he applied for a pilot position with Continental Airlines.

He was reportedly invited to be interviewed after having left blank the racial-identity question on the application.

After not getting the job, Green sued and the U.S. Supreme Court in 1963 ruled he had been unlawfully discriminated against.

In 1964, American Airlines hired David Harris as the first African-American pilot for major domestic passenger airline.

Green, following his Supreme Court victory, flew for Continental from 1965 to 1978.