By Carl E. Chance
During World War II, the U.S. military was racially segregated. Reflecting American society and law at the time, most black soldiers and sailors were restricted to labor battalions and other support positions. An experiment in the U.S. Army Air Forces, however, showed that given equal opportunity and training, African-Americans could fly in, command and support combat units as well as anyone. The USAAF’s black fliers, the so-called "Tuskegee Airmen," served with distinction in combat and directly contributed to the eventual integration of the U.S. armed services, with the U.S. Air Force leading the way.
One such individual, who became an elite history maker as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, was Donald E. Jackson. Having enlisted in the Army Reserve Corps at 17, he graduated from Charles Sumner High School in Kansas City at the height of World War II, in 1944. Jackson was inducted into the military six months after he turned 18 years old. After Jackson’s basic training, he was slated for Tuskegee and was soon sent there. At Tuskegee University he was taught by some of the heroic veterans of the 99th Pursuit Squadron. He graduated at the close of the war, in Class 45H, the last group of Tuskegee Airmen to be trained as a B-25 bomber pilot. Not long following graduation, Jackson was put on extended leave and allowed to attend college, due to the Excess Officer Act.
Jackson remembers that as a student of N.E. Junior High School in Kansas City, Kansas, he had developed a hobby of building model airplanes. He also remembers being duly influenced by two graduates from Tuskegee University who came to a school assembly to speak to the students. By high school age, Jackson had become an excellent student of science and had started dreaming of becoming a fighter pilot. Enlisting in the Army Reserve Corps ensured Jackson of creating the military career he had envisioned.
There were four-steps that Jackson remembers on the way to becoming a Tuskegee pilot. There was pre-flight, or ground school. Then primary training was next. If you passed that you were then checked out by white military pilots and sent on your way to basic training. Advanced training followed and finally the pilots received their commissions.
Following World War II, Jackson went on to attend Kansas State University where he received his doctor of veterinary medicine degree in 1951. After graduating, Dr. Jackson was employed at Dr. Bronson’s Dog and Cat Hospital in Wichita, Kansas for six years. In 1957, Dr. Jackson was able to achieve his goal of running his own business when he opened his All Pets Clinic in Wichita. He treated small animals for more that 40 years, until retiring in 2001.
Today, in his mid-eighties, Dr. Jackson has been an active member of the "Oz Bicycle Club" for over 30 years. Yes, he can still wear his 1940’s Air Force uniform. You can now see that uniform plus a Tuskegee Airmen display at the "Museum of World Treasures," 835 East 1st Street, Wichita, Kansas. Contact LaWanda J. Smith, curator of collections at 316-263-1311 for more information on Museum hours of operation.
For more information on the Tuskegee Airmen, please access the Tuskegee page on www.wingsoverkansas.com.