Roger “Bill” Terry

Second District Resident And Member Of Famed Tuskegee Airmen Dead At 87

Roger “Bill” Terry, the only member of the famed all-back group of World War II aviators known as the Tuskegee Airmen convicted in what became known as the Freeman Field Mutiny, died today at the age of 87.

Terry died of congestive heart failure at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center, Oliver Goodall, public relations officer of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc., told the Los Angeles Times.

On April 5, 1945, Terry helped 2nd Lt. Coleman Young, later the mayor of Detroit, send black airmen to the main officers club, which was reserved for whites, at Freeman Field in Indiana, according to a Los Angeles Times account published earlier this year.

Nineteen airmen forced their way past 1st Lt. Joseph D. Rogers, a white officer sent to protect the club, into the club and were arrested, according to military records cited by The Times.

Terry stepped into the club and was arrested. Rogers reported Terry and two other officers shoved him.

Of the 162 black officers arrested, only Terry and two others received general courts-martial. Future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall directed their defense.

On Aug. 2, 1995, Terry was pardoned by the Army, which restored his rank and refunded his $150 fine.

“This is the benefit of being a nation of laws,” Terry told The Times. “They sometimes catch up with you if you’re right.”

Terry had earned his pilot’s wings and rose to the rank of second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps earlier in 1945. He never flew overseas.

Following the war, Terry earned a law degree, going on to work for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and Probation Department, according to The Times.

In 1972, Terry was among the founders of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., intended to draw attention to the group’s history. Terry was among the group of airmen who received a Congressional Gold Medal from then-President George W. Bush in 2007.

The Tuskegee Airmen were also depicted on a U.S. postage stamp, were the subject of a 1996 HBO film “The Tuskegee Airmen” and “Red Tails,” a film to be produced by George Lucas.

Surviving airmen were invited to President Barack Obama’s inauguration earlier this year.

The Tuskegee Airmen were pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors and all personnel who kept the planes in the air of an all-black pursuit squadron initially based in Tuskegee, Ala.

Terry is survived by a wife and four children, Goodall said. Funeral plans are pending.

Story from the City News Service.

Page last revised 06/13/2009
James D. West