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Leon C. “Derailer” Roberts

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Leon C. “Derailer” Roberts
BornLeon C. Roberts
June 29, 1921
Chickasaw, Alabama, US
💀DiedJune 26, 1944(1944-06-26) (aged 22)
Italy, USJune 26, 1944(1944-06-26) (aged 22)
Resting placeOaklawn Cemetery, Section 5 Row 26, in Mobile, Alabama.
🏳️ Nationality
💼 Occupation
  • Military officer
  • fighter pilot
📆 Years active  1942–1944

Leon C. “Derailer” Roberts (June 29, 1921 – July 11, 1944) was a United States Army Air Forces officer and combat fighter pilot of the 332nd Fighter Group's 99th Pursuit Squadron, best known as the Tuskegee Airmen or "Red Tails".[1] He was one of 1,007 documented Tuskegee Airmen Pilots.[2]

Roberts was the first African American U.S. military pilot to engage in aerial combat against an enemy combatant, sharing this honor with 99th Fighter Squadron pilots Sidney P. Brooks, Charles Dryden, Willie Ashley, Lee Rayford and Spann Watson.[3]

On July 24, 1994, the USS ALABAMA Battleship Memorial renamed its North AmericanP-51D Mustang |4474216 – USAF for Roberts.[4]

Early Life, Family[edit]

Roberts was born on June 29, 1921, in Chickasaw, Alabama.[1] He was the son of Benjamin Franklin Roberts (January 12, 1893 – January 15, 1952) and Nellie Coleman Roberts (August 29, 1895 – September 27, 1994). He was also the twin brother of Cleon Bernard Roberts (June 29, 1921 – June 18, 2007), who served as an flight instrument instructor for the airmen of the Tuskegee Army Air Corp, Tuskegee, Alabama. His other siblings included younger sister Frances Roberts Willis (April 14, 1926 – March 21, 2005), brother Leslie Roberts, brother Eugene V. Roberts (1928–2006), sister Imogene Roberts Howard (1928 – ), and sister Olivia Cauthen.

Robert attended Mobile County Public Schools in Alabama, graduating from Mobile County Training School on January 27, 1944.

Military Service, Tuskegee Airmen[edit]

In 1942, Roberts enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. On August 5, 1942, Roberts graduated from the Tuskegee Advanced Pilot Cadet program as a member of the fifth-ever Cadet Class Single Engine Section SE-42-G, receiving his wings and commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, service number assignment O-791539.[5][6][7] Roberts was notable for being among the first thirty-four African American combat fighter pilots.

The U.S. Army Air Corps assigned Roberts to the 332nd Fighter Group's 99th Fighter Squadron, becoming on April 12, 1944, its Operations Officer, succeeding then-Captain Lemuel R. Custis.[8][5][9] Roberts flew 97 combat missions in the Mediterranean Theater, with 116 total missions overall.[5][10]

Roberts became the first African American combat fighter pilot to engage in aerial combat, achieving this historic feat on June 9, 1943 with fellow 99th Fighter Squadron pilots Charles Dryden, Willie Ashley, Lee Rayford, Sidney P. Brooks and Spann Watson.[11][12] His squadron nicknamed Roberts the “Derailer” for his astute ability to disrupt German flight patterns.[13]

On January 27, 1944, Roberts was credited with one aerial kill, shooting down an enemy German FW-190 aircraft over Anzio, Italy.[14][1] Though the enemy FW-190 had a moment to escape, its pilot elected to fight Roberts, who agilely maneuvered his slower yet superiorly armed Curtiss P-40L in for the kill.[15]

Roberts is also credited with destroying a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 and German Fieseler Fi 156 Storch that were exchanging gunfire with American ground troops.[16]

At the time of his death in 1944, Roberts held the rank of Captain.[1]

Unit Assignments[edit]

  • 1941–1942, AAF MOS 770, Aviation Cadet Flight School, Tuskegee AAF, Tuskegee[1]
  • 1942–1944, AAF MOS 1055, 99th Fighter Squadron, Ramitelli Airfield, Foggia[1]
  • 1943–1943, AAF MOS 1055, 33rd Fighter Group, Qued N'ja, French Morocco; Fardjouna, Tunisia[1]
  • 1943–1943, AAF MOS 1055, 324th Fighter Group, Fardjouna Airfield[1]
  • 1943–1943, AAF MOS 1055, 33rd Fighter Group, Licata, Termini, & Barcellona Airfields, Sicily[1]
  • 1943–1944, AAF MOS 1055, 79th Fighter Group, Salsola, Madna, & Capodichino Airfields
  • 1944–1944, AAF MOS 1055, 324th Fighter Group, Cercola & Pignataro Airfields[1]
  • 1944–1944, AAF MOS 1055, 332nd Fighter Group, Ramitelli Airfield, Foggia[1]

Awards, Commendations[edit]

  • Air Medal[5]
  • United States Aviator Badge Army[5]
  • World War II Victory Medal[5]
  • American Campaign Medal[5]
  • Army Presidential Unit Citation[5]
  • Army Good Conduct Medal[5]
  • European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign[5]

Death[edit]

On July 11, 1944, Roberts was killed when his P-51C Mustang #42-103913 crashed during a P-51 transition training flight.[5] Officials believed Robert's faulty oxygen mask caused him to black out, lose control of his aircraft, and crash.[5] He was only 23 years old and en route to being transferred to Alabama.[5] Roberts was interred at Oaklawn Cemetery, Section 5 Row 26, in Mobile, Alabama.

Legacy[edit]

  • On July 24, 1994, the USS ALABAMA Battleship Memorial renamed its North AmericanP-51D Mustang |4474216 – USAF for Roberts. His twin brother Cleon, mother Nellie Roberts, and sister Imogene Roberts Howard represented the family at the ceremony. Tuskegee Airman Herbert Carter served as the keynote speaker. Charles B. Hall was honored as well for being the first Tuskegee Airman to shoot down a German plane on June 21, 1943.[17]

See also[edit]


Other articles of the topics Biography AND Aviation : Alberto Nassetti, Reginald V. Smith, Mac Ross, Henry B. Perry, Sidney P. Brooks, Terry J. Charlton, Jr, Pier Paolo Racchetti

Other articles of the topic Biography : William Bowery (American Songwriter), Jordan kranio, 2020 International Conference on Imam al-Maturidi, Ashley Halfman, Frank O. Slater, Morgan Jackson, Abigail Folger

Other articles of the topic Aviation : Henry B. Perry, Sol América, 2009 Joy Flight crash, Flybosnia, Alrosa-Avia, Sidney P. Brooks, Qatar Airways Flight 962
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  • Executive Order 9981
  • List of Tuskegee Airmen
  • List of Tuskegee Airmen Cadet Pilot Graduation Classes
  • Military history of African Americans

References[edit]

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Together We Served. "Roll of Honor – U.S. Air Force – Deceased – Roberts, Leon C., Capt – USAAF Veteran." https://airforce.togetherweserved.com/usaf/servlet/tws.webapp.WebApp?cmd=ShadowBoxProfile&type=Person&ID=172084
  2. "Tuskegee Airmen Pilot Roster". CAF Rise Above. CAF Rise Above. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  3. U.S. Army. "Tuskegee Airmen Soared to New Heights." John J. Kurash, U.S. Army Military History Institute. May 8, 2007. https://www.army.mil/article/3028/tuskegee_airmen_soared_to_new_heights
  4. Sharing the legacy. "SHARING THE LEGACY of TUSKEGEE AIRMEN." Published February 13, 2012. http://thenewjournalandguide.com/sharing-the-legacy/
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 Honor States. "Leon C Roberts". https://www.honorstates.org/index.php?id=323460
  6. CAF Rise Above. "Tuskegee Airmen Pilot Roster." https://cafriseabove.org/the-tuskegee-airmen/tuskegee-airmen-pilot-roster/ . This data derives from CAF Rise Above's research project compiling data from Tuskegee Airmen historians including the Air Force Historical Research Agency.
  7. CAF Rise Above. "Class SE-42-G." https://cafriseabove.org/artifact/class-se-42-g/
  8. World War II Pictures In Details. "Pilots of Tuskegee Airmen Discusses Air Action Over Anzio." 14 November 2012. https://ww2images.blogspot.com/2012/11/pilots-of-tuskegee-airmen-discusses-air.html
  9. CAF Rise Above. "THE TWELVE GREATEST AIR BATTLES OF THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN." Daniel L. Haulman, PhD, Chief, Organizational Histories Branch Air Force Historical Research Agency. 25 January 2010 edition. https://cafriseabove.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/The-Twelve-Greatest-Air-Battles.pdf
  10. World War II Pictures In Details. "Pilots of Tuskegee Airmen Discusses Air Action Over Anzio." 14 November 2012. https://ww2images.blogspot.com/2012/11/pilots-of-tuskegee-airmen-discusses-air.html
  11. U.S. Army. "Tuskegee Airmen Soared to New Heights." John J. Kurash, U.S. Army Military History Institute. May 8, 2007. https://www.army.mil/article/3028/tuskegee_airmen_soared_to_new_heights
  12. Tuskegee Airmen-A Salute to The "RED TAILS" in Italy in WWII. http://frankambrose.com/pages/tusk.html
  13. Sharing the legacy. "SHARING THE LEGACY of TUSKEGEE AIRMEN." Published February 13, 2012. http://thenewjournalandguide.com/sharing-the-legacy/
  14. CAF Rise Above. "THE TWELVE GREATEST AIR BATTLES OF THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN." Daniel L. Haulman, PhD, Chief, Organizational Histories Branch Air Force Historical Research Agency. 25 January 2010 edition. https://cafriseabove.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/The-Twelve-Greatest-Air-Battles.pdf
  15. World War II Pictures In Details. "Pilots of Tuskegee Airmen Discusses Air Action Over Anzio." 14 November 2012. https://ww2images.blogspot.com/2012/11/pilots-of-tuskegee-airmen-discusses-air.html
  16. Sharing the legacy. "SHARING THE LEGACY of TUSKEGEE AIRMEN." Published February 13, 2012. http://thenewjournalandguide.com/sharing-the-legacy/
  17. Sharing the legacy. "SHARING THE LEGACY of TUSKEGEE AIRMEN." Published February 13, 2012. http://thenewjournalandguide.com/sharing-the-legacy/


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