St Louis, Missouri, US
COL, Tuskegee Airman – member of the Red Tails
6/11/2010, Kent, Washington, USA
As a child, William “Bill” Holloman (Lt. Col., USAF, Ret.) dreamed of flying across the Atlantic like Charles Lindbergh did in 1927. Little did young Holloman know that he would do that, and a whole lot more: Most noteworthy, as a member of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen.
Born 21 August 1924 in St. Louis, Holloman successfully completed the Aviation Cadet examinations in August 1942. After waiting months for class selection, he began training with college courses at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama and later graduated in class 44-H from Tuskegee Army Air Field in September 1944.
And his impact has been broad and deep. Even Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard B. Myers in 2001 – when he was Vice Chairman – credited a 1980s speech by Holloman for grabbing the attention of “one young wavering cadet, uncertain that he had made the right career choice,” who later rose to join Myers’s personal staff.
During World War II, the Army was ordered to conduct an “experiment” – to train and equip black fighter pilots to help in the war effort. At that time, blacks were seldom, if ever, commissioned as officers and had never flown for the U.S. The “Tuskegee Airmen” (named after the Tuskegee Army Air Field—TAAF–in Tuskegee Alabama), made up of all black pilots and maintenance crews, quickly became a mainstay of the Army Air Corps in the European theatre. They overcame the odds of racial divides and flew some of the war’s most difficult combat operations.
“We were the forerunners of the civil rights movement. We opened the door…and it has taken years for people to recognize our contribution to the war,” Holloman told sailors at the Navel Air Station at Whidbey Island in Washington in 2001.
Following transition training in the P-40 and P-47, Holloman became a replacement pilot in Italy, flying P-51’s with the 99th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group, known as “The Red Tails”. The Red Tails flourished. According the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. Web site, the 99th and 332nd began conducting long-range heavy bomber escort missions for the 15th Strategic Air Force. It established the incredible and unprecedented record of flying its entire bomber escort missions (200 over central and southern Europe) without the loss of a single bomber to enemy aircraft.
Holloman told Veterans Advantage that another thing he told kids is to hold onto their dreams, no matter how long and winding the road to their fruition may appear. Holloman spent many years holding true to his dream of aviation. But even after the glory of victory in WWII, racial prejudice from potential employers kept him out of American skies. His civilian air service took him to crop dusting in Central America and flying with a regional airline in Canada.
After another tour during the Korean War where he became the first black helicopter pilot in the Air Force, Bill was again recalled to active duty in 1966. He became a leading instrument examiner and check pilot as Director for Safety and Standards, first in Vietnam and then in Europe.
And by the spring of 1972, fulfilling his childhood dream to follow Lindberg, Holloman finally got to fly his own plane across the Atlantic, piloting a C-141 in a 9+ hour flight from Germany to New Jersey. “There’s always something to strive for,” is the message he wants to leave with those he meets.
Colonel Holloman, having amassed nearly 17,000 flying hours and becoming a Master Aviator, retired from the service in 1972 and completed his degree requirements in Business Administration at the University of Maryland and History at the University of Washington. He was an active member of the Tuskegee Airmen, Incorporated, the U.S. Army Black Aviation Association, the P-40 Warhawks Pilots, the P-47 Thunderbolt Pilots, and the P-51 Mustang Pilots Associations, plus assisting the Western Washington Squadron of ALO’s in Air Force Academy and AFROTC recruiting. He was a member of Veterans Advantage.
A father of six children, Colonel Holloman resided in Seattle, Washington, devoting his time to historical research on Blacks in the military, giving talks on the Tuskegee Airmen and encouraging young people to pursue Air Force and Aerospace careers. We are grateful for his time and honored by his service.