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Monday, January 9, 2017
Claude Alexander Rowe Jr. - Course 100
(Photo: Claude Rowe Jr. with RCAF pilot badge on his U.S. uniform) October 5, 2018 By Andrew Dyer - San Diego Tribune Claude Alexander Rowe Jr. who served in the armed forces of two allied nations during World War II, was laid to rest Friday at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego with full military honors, including a gun salute and a “missing man” formation flyby of WWII-era fighters.
Rowe died on Sept. 20 at age 97. He was born in Detroit on July 7, 1921. He was a student at the Lawrence Institute of Technology during World War II and left college during his second year to serve his country as a pilot.
Because Rowe was black, he was not eligible to fly in the Army Air Corps. Instead, he went north, to the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he earned his wings in 1944.
In September 1945, Rowe came back to the U.S. and joined the Army, this time as part of the Tuskegee Airmen Experiment, a segregated unit. He earned his wings in June 1946 and flew bombers such as the WB-50 and B-29.
Rowe stayed on as the Air Corps transitioned into the Air Force, eventually becoming a weather officer. He retired in 1966 as a captain.
(Photo: Claude Rowe Jr. wearing RCAF uniform) (Interview January 18, 2009 San Diego Union-Tribune)
As a youngster, when people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, of course my answer was “I want to be a pilot!” With Selfridge Air National Guard Base near Detroit, where I lived, I used to watch the planes fly over on my way to school. I had my mind set from a very young age, and was not going to settle for less, despite the color of my skin.
When I was in high school, I was offered the option of an aviation class or an auto mechanics class. I wanted to take aviation in order to begin my mission of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, my teacher said they would never let a colored man be a military pilot, so I was directed to the auto mechanics class.
Just a couple of years after I graduated, the war began. I knew it was not only a chance to fulfill my destiny, but also an opportunity to fight for my country. I left the Lawrence Institute of Technology and headed to the local military recruiting office to join the line of men waiting to sign up. When I got to the front, and they told me that my only choice would be to serve as a cook, I took my application and headed for the door. There was only one option I wanted, and that was to fly and fight for the right side.
Having seen advertisements around Detroit for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and not knowing if and when colored pilots would ever be allowed in the United States, I headed north to Canada. Since I was the only black man in my class up there, I was naturally integrated with the white pilots. After I received my wings, I returned to the United States.
Nathaniel Carr, a good friend of mine from high school, told me about the Tuskegee program. I leapt at the chance to be a part of such an unprecedented experience. That was what I had been waiting to hear my entire life, the chance to fly and fight for our country!
I always thought that if I didn’t fly for my country, I wouldn’t earn the right to become a first-class citizen.
There were some tough times; being that it was a nearly colorless military at the time, we were segregated to all-colored bases. At certain other bases, we were not even allowed to go to the Officers Club, and white airmen were reluctant to salute colored officers. It was routine to be separated, and although the discrimination was uncomfortable, we were too determined to let that stop us. We were not just fighting for our country, we were fighting for our dreams, and we were willing to give our lives for it.
The military was integrated in 1948, and that made things somewhat easier; it was another step toward being recognized for what we did rather than the color of our skins. We were given more opportunities to fly larger, more powerful planes. The bigger the plane, the more I liked it! I absolutely loved flying the B-29 Superfortress, a four-engine heavy bomber, in the Korean War. Being in the air gave you a sense of freedom you never felt on land.
After serving for over 20 years, I retired from the military. Despite fighting in wars across the world, and a war for equality in my own country, I met my beautiful wife while stationed in England in November 1949. I have the experience to thank for a lot of wonderful things in my life (including eight children and 18 grandchildren!), and for paving the way for change in our country.
We were not just fighting for our country. We were fighting for our dreams and we were willing to give our lives for it.
(Photo: Claude Rowe and fellow Course 92 pilot trainees at No. 2 Elementary Flying Training School, Fort William, Ontario, Canada December 1943.)
(Photo: February 22, 2013 - Tuskegee Airman Claude Rowe and Nelson Robinson, left, chat with each other after the dedication/unveiling of the Tuskegee Airman Highway sign with the Senate Concurrent Resolution 90 that designates a 3-mile section of Interstate 15 as the “Tuskegee Airmen Highway” to honor all the men of the 332nd Fighter Group and the 447th Bombardment Group, who faithfully served this country while fighting the enemy in Europe and segregation at home. - D. Boomer photo)