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Working Title

Art and the African American Experience

· WWII,African American,Pilot,Killed In Action,Art


The Life of Leonard Robert Willette, son, brother, artist, Tuskegee Airman.

17, March 1921- 22, September 1944 23 years, 6 months and 5 days.

Leonard Robert Willette born 17, March 1921 in Belleville, New Jersey. The second of six children of Lawrence Willette Sr. and Leonora Willette (Boyd). Under the careful guide of his father, Lawrence Sr. Leonard found himself to be a natural artist and, in fact won several awards for his artwork and presented First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt an illustrated version of one of her plays. A member of the International Artist Society at age 17, Leonard illustrated the annual for his graduating year at Belleville High School.

Leonard was the second boy of the family, Lawrence Jr. was the oldest, born in 1919, Carmen the first girl born in 1923, Naida in 1925, Eric in 1929 and Glenn in 1931. The children grew and flourished under the parentage of Lawrence Sr. and Leonora (Lenora) B. who were quite remarkable people and this shows throughout the children. Lawrence was a graduate of Wilberforce University and entered the United States Army to serve as a 2nd. Lieutenant in the 370th Infantry Regiment in World War One, the military lifestyle remained with him and became a tradition within the Willette Family. Leonora Willette, graduated from Wilberforce University College in Ohio.

The family lived at 137 Stephens St in Belleville, NJ. The home still stands today. For work Lawrence ran one of the larger branches of the post office in that region of and Leonora made fur coats, stoles and sables every few months when she wasn't writing speeches, writing for newspaper columns, editing a newspaper, working on immigrant worker studies for The First Lady, and critiquing politicians speeches, she was a mother and homemaker.

Lawrence Sr. was a robust and active man; would swim across Lake Cheesequake in New Jersey once a day in the summer and had a regimented exercise routine for his children throughout the year. The two eldest boys Lawrence Jr and Leonard Robert were the golden boys to their father, the three had annual camping trips to the Canadian border to learn hunting, shooting, bow hunting, land navigation and survival. These experiences and skills and time with their father left indelible marks on these boys as they grew into men.

Throughout grade school Leonard flourished artistically and illustrated his Belleville High School Annual, the year he graduated 1939. He was accepted to NYU into the art program and Leonard went on to answer the call when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and despite his mother's efforts to keep him out of the war overseas, such as gaining Leonard an appointment to West Point by New Jersey Senator Warren Harbour, Leonard passed the necessary tests and joined the Tuskegee Airman in 1943, training as an aviation cadet at Tuskegee, Alabama Graduating on 8, February 1944 from Class 44-B-SE.

His first assignment with a rating of Flight Officer T-62308 was to pilot a P51 Fighter from Ramitelli Airfield in Foggia, Italy with the 99th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group. The Red Tails.

Leonard was Killed In Action over Germany while his squadron the 99th "Red Tails" was escorting B-17 Bombers to Munich.

The circumstances of Leonard Robert Willette’s crash are as follows:

The 332d Fighter Group escorted B-17 bombers of the 5th Bomb Wing to hit the Allach BMW Engine Works in Munich, Germany (332d Fighter Group mission report number 83). Flight Officer Leonard R. Willette of the 99th Fighter Squadron and his P-51 were reported lost near Lake Chiem, Germany, on the mission

(Missing Air Crew Report 8947).

On the way to an escort mission to Munich, Germany, on Sept. 22, Willette told his flight leader he was going to have to bail from his plane, a P-51 Mustang named Wrong Woman.

"I immediately called him to turn about, change channels on radio, and that we would return at once to base," 1st Lt. Herman A. Lawson wrote in a military report. "I then asked what was his trouble. He replied that his oil pressure was very low. A few seconds later he called that he was at 21,000 feet, looking for a good spot to bail out. This all happened in approximately three minutes.

"After the turnabout, I never saw Flight Officer Willette again."

Lt. Pearlee E. Saunders, Willette's wingman, turned around to escort Willette back to Ramitelli Air Field in Italy.

"I also turned and noticed the aircraft slowing gliding beneath us," Saunders wrote in the report. "I called over the radio in an attempt to give Flight Officer Willette's position to Lt. Lawson. Lt. Lawson apparently did not hear me. Later I looked below again at which time I saw the aircraft disappear through a break in the clouds." (Courtesy of St. Louis Post Dispatch)

The time was 12:33 p.m. on Sept. 22, 1944.

His Army Officer's Serial Number would later be promoted posthumously to O-1692873.

Willette was not able to bail out, and crashed with his plane, his body was recovered by the Germans and the Red Cross was notified of his passing via Geneva.

8 Months later his mother Leonora was invited to the White House by Eleanor Roosevelt to express sympathy for the loss of her son. Only 66 Tuskegee Airmen were killed in action in WWII.

2nd Lt. Leonard Robert Willette is memorialized at: Plot J, Row 18, Grave 17, at the Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, France.

Second Lt. Willette, was awarded the Air Medal with oak leaf cluster, and the Purple Heart, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 1 Bronze Service Star, WWII Victory Medal, WWII Lapel Button.

He is also survived by brother Pvt. Lawrence Willette Jr.Who is still alive at age 96, as well as youngest brother Glenn.

He is memorialized at: Plot J, Row 18, Grave 17, at the Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, France.

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