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MARTIN, Robert L.

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MARTIN, Robert L. (Dubuque, IA, 1919-- ). Tuskegee Airman. Facing challenges was not new to Martin who grew up in Dubuque as one of the city's few African Americans. Wanting to be a Boy Scout posed a problem because some parents threatened to remove their boys from the program if the troop admitted a black. Martin continued with the program on his own, participating as a Lone Scout.

Martin, a 1936 graduate of DUBUQUE SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL, earned his pilot's license as a student at Iowa State University and took his first solo flight in a Luscomb trainer. In 1942 he was accepted into the Army's black pilot training program in Tuskegee, Alabama. He trained in the AT-6 Texan and the P-40 War Hawk.

Segregation continued to play an important life in the life of African Americans in the pilot program. They had their own classes, flew on different airstrips and ate meals in separate dining halls from the white pilots. The Army even had a War College study that suggested blacks did not have the basic capabilities to pilot warplanes.

Tuskegee airmen were trained using this type of airplane. Photo: Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, Alabama
One of the actual airplanes used during World War II. Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, Alabama

Martin arrive in Italy in June 1944 and joined the 100th fighter squadron, art of the all-black 332nd fighter group. Their job was to keep German BF-109 Messerschmitts and other fighters from attacking American B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberator bombers. Black pilots, an estimated 450 of the 1,000 from the Tuskegee program flew 15,533 individual combat missions in WORLD WAR II. They were known to American forces as the "Red Tailed Angels" because of the identifying red paint on their planes' tail section. The "Tuskegee Airmen" earned the respect of their peers and the military leaders. In 1947 the Air Force became a separate service and segregation of the pilots was ended in 1949.

Lt. Martin, flying a P-51 Mustang, had 63 ½ missions to his credit. On March 3, 1945, he was shot down by ground fire over the Zagreb aerodrome (Yugoslavia) and parachuted from the burning airplane. He was rescued by Yugoslav partisans and was not captured by the Germans. He spent five weeks in Yugoslavia and then returned to Italy by truck and plane.

Martin's decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart and Air Medal with 6 Oak Leaf Clusters. In 2007 he received the Congressional Gold Medal for his service and was inducted into the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame. He has also been a part of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. who travel the country as historians and educators.

Photo: Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, Alabama

On February 23, 2010 Martin was honored at Simpson College with the 2010 George Washington Carver Medal. Carver, who received part his education at Simpson, later taught at the institute where the airmen trained.

Information provided by Richard G. Bridges.