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An American Fighter Pilot and Unsung Hero

Updated on May 28, 2020
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Robert filmed and interviewed the descendants of three African American World War II heroes. All three men died on the same calendar day.

Lt. Col. Luke J. Weathers, Jr. was an American World War II fighter pilot who lived in Memphis, Tennessee.  He served as one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen.
Lt. Col. Luke J. Weathers, Jr. was an American World War II fighter pilot who lived in Memphis, Tennessee. He served as one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. | Source

Lt. Col. Luke J. Weathers, Jr.

Lt. Col. Luke J. Weathers, Jr. was an American World War II (WWII) fighter pilot who lived in Memphis, Tennessee. He served as one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen and made tremendous and heroic contributions to US History. Weathers and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen reportedly hold the record as being the most outstanding pilots and crew efforts in US Military History.

Three Heroes Who Are Linked

Circumstances have linked Weathers with two other unsung, African American heroes from Memphis.

Lt. Col. Luke J. Weathers Jr., PFC Sylvester Rodgers, Sr., and Ernest C. Withers:

  • all died on the same calendar day of October 15,
  • all served in World War II, and
  • all made significant contributions to the history of the United States.

Three African American WWII heroes from Memphis are linked together by the fact that they all died on the same calendar day of October 15.

The year of death differs for each hero:

  • Rodgers died in 1993.
  • Withers died in 2007.
  • Weathers passed away in 2011.

From Grenada to Memphis

Luke J. Weathers, Jr.:

  • Was born on December 16, 1920, in Grenada, Mississippi
  • Moved to Memphis with his family when he was around two years of age
  • Attended St. Augusta Elementary School in Memphis, Tennessee
  • Graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tennessee

Luke J. Weathers, Sr. (the father of Luke J. Weathers, Jr.) owned and operated the first African American grocery store in the city of Memphis.


Luke J. Weathers, Sr. (the father of Luke J. Weathers, Jr.) owned and operated the first African American grocery store in the city of Memphis, Tennessee.

An Aspiration to Contribute

In 1939, when WWII began, Luke J. Weathers, Jr. had an intense desire to serve his country in the United States military.

He, like many African Americans during that time, had an aspiration to contribute to his country in a capacity other than serving as a cook or cleaning latrines.

A Desire to Serve

When WWII began, Luke Weathers, Jr., along with other African-Americans, had a desire to serve his country in a capacity other than serving as a cook or cleaning latrines.
When WWII began, Luke Weathers, Jr., along with other African-Americans, had a desire to serve his country in a capacity other than serving as a cook or cleaning latrines. | Source

Political Pressures of War

In 1941, the Tuskegee Project was started in Tuskegee, Alabama, at Moton Field. The project was intended to prove the ill-conceived notion that black men (negroes) could not endure flight training. At that time in American history, it was reasoned that the United States needed additional pilots, but they could not be black pilots. It was asserted that African American men did not possess the mental or motor skills necessary to operate sophisticated machinery such as an airplane. The Tuskegee project, however, showed that it was false to assume that blacks could not fly planes.

Moton Field Tuskegee, Alabama

The Tuskegee project showed that it was false to assume that blacks could not fly airplanes.
The Tuskegee project showed that it was false to assume that blacks could not fly airplanes. | Source

Accepted in the Program

As a result of being involved in The Tuskegee Project, Luke J. Weathers, Jr.:

  • Became a member of The Tuskegee Airmen
  • Flew with the 332nd Fighter Group and the 302nd Fighter Squadron
  • Departed for Italy on January 03, 1944
  • Began by flying missions in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany

Source

They Had to Pass the Test

Two movies entitled: The Tuskegee Airmen and Red Tails both depict young cadets as having to take and pass the pilot's test twice. In his autobiography, Luke Weathers, Jr., states that the young Tuskegee Airmen had to take and pass the pilot's test four times.

In his autobiography, Luke Weathers, Jr. states that the young Tuskegee Airmen had to take and pass the pilot's test four times. Their white counterparts had to take and pass the pilot's test only two times.

Lt. Col. Luke J. Weathers, Jr. was one of the Tuskegee Airmen. He was an American fighter pilot, just like the men pictured in this photo. Source: Tuskegee Airmen Archives
Lt. Col. Luke J. Weathers, Jr. was one of the Tuskegee Airmen. He was an American fighter pilot, just like the men pictured in this photo. Source: Tuskegee Airmen Archives | Source

Safely Escorted Bombers

The United States would have had a difficult time winning World War II if it had not been for the exemplary and heroic deeds of the Tuskegee Airmen. The airmen safely escorted countless bombers to their assigned missions.

Historical documents show that The Tuskegee Airmen:

  • hold the best record of air support and air battles in US military history, and
  • never lost a single bomber under their protection.

They Hold the Best Record

Historical documents show that The Tuskegee Airmen hold the best record of air support and air battles in US military history. They never lost a single bomber under their protection.

African American Pilots in World War II

Did You Know That There Were African American Fighter Pilots in World War II?

See results

Head-On Combat

For one assignment, Luke Weathers was escorting a wounded bomber to England after a previous bombing mission over Germany.

He flew beneath the bomber to disguise his presence from possible enemy attack.

Eight German plans attacked the bomber. Weathers and two other escorts engaged enemy contact. Weathers flew into the Germans head-on, immediately taking down one plane.

During one assignment, Weathers flew into eight enemy aircraft head-on, immediately taking down one plane.

The other seven adversaries came after Weathers, but he did not panic. He put his plane in a dive and quickly throttled up to altitude. As he looked back, he spied an enemy aircraft on his tail.

Through skill and cunning, Weathers ended up on the tail of the enemy plane. With a long burst of machine-gun fire and a few short bursts, the enemy aircraft went tumbling to the ground.


Shot down over Greece

On one of his missions, Weathers was shot down over Greece. However, with the help of local villagers, he safely made it back to his unit.

On one of his missions, Weathers was shot down over Greece.
On one of his missions, Weathers was shot down over Greece.

An Indelible Mark on History

Placing an indelible mark on history, after returning to his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, Lt. Col. Weathers received honors that, up until that time, had never been bestowed on an African American in that city. History, no doubt, will always show and revere Weathers and his fellow Tuskegee comrades as exemplary pilots associated with exceptional crew efforts.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Robert Odell Jr

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    • Muchsuccess profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Odell Jr 

      2 years ago from Memphis, Tennessee

      My pleasure Ms Boyce. It is an honorary privilege to be able to share in keeping your father’s great legacy alive. I, do indeed, look forward to fantastic things from the newly organized Lt. Col. Luke J. Weathers Foundation.

    • profile image

      Trina Weathers Boyce 

      2 years ago

      Thank you Mr. Odell for keeping my father's legacy alive. Ernest Withers was my mother's childhood friend, neighbor and classmate (Manassas Class of 1941). People would often make Withers and Weathers synonymous and we accepted them as family. Andrew Rome Withers called me on October 15 the year his dad passed and years later I did the same. The first thing Rome asked me was, do you know what today is ? My dad bought Uncle Ernest, as I called him, his first camera. Look out for great things from the newly organized Lt. Col. Luke J. Weathers Foundation that will continue his legacy in aviation. #lukelegacylives

    • Muchsuccess profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Odell Jr 

      2 years ago from Memphis, Tennessee

      Thank You Rashida,

      I am honored to have been able to learn of your grandfather's great accomplishments by meeting and listening to his son, Luke J. Weathers III. I thank you and your family for sharing your rich family history with me and with the world.

    • profile image

      Rashida Curtis 

      2 years ago

      Granddaughter of Mr. Weathers. Thank You for this! My grandfather raised me in Alexandria, VA, I missed him dearly today and found this article. Thank You

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