Woodrow L. Crockett

Class of 1939

Woodrow Crockett was born in Texarkana, Arkansas, on August 31, 1918, the fifth of six children. He attended elementary school in Homan, Arkansas, in a two-room schoolhouse where both his parents were teachers. The school ran only through eighth grade, and Crockett remembers that he realized before the age of ten that an eighth grade education "would not hack it in the world even in 1930." So, in 1930, he left Homan for Little Rock to live with his sister in order to attend the brand-new Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. Crockett had to come to Little Rock because Washington High School in Texarkana was segregated, and Dunbar "was the only high school available for blacks" about which he knew.

After rural Homan, Crockett experienced culture shock when he first saw Dunbar. He "just didn't know what to think of. . .this huge school, three or four stories high, taking up almost a full block, with marble-like floors." Even more impressive were all the teachers who were "experts" in the classes they taught and that they had their own classrooms! Crockett used his time at Dunbar to expand his proficiency in mathematics, his favorite subject, with teacher Lillian M. Weaver. Following his graduation from Dunbar in 1939, Crockett began junior college at Dunbar. He was so far advanced in mathematics that he taught Mrs. Weaver's high school and junior college classes when she took a two-week vacation one semester.

Crockett left Dunbar in 1940 when financial problems arose and he decided to join the army. Assigned to the 349th Field Artillery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Crockett found that his skills in math were useful in figuring out the trajectory and ranges necessary to hit targets. In short order he rose to "acting" Technical Sergeant but officially he only held the rank of Private. Crockett set his sights higher than a non-commissioned rank and wanted to become an officer and draw the $125 per month salary. He received permission to attend Officers Candidate School in 1942 but declined in favor of applying to become a "Tuskegee Airman" (and make almost twice the salary).

Crockett received his wings with the 12th class (43C) of airmen at Tuskegee Army Air Field. He was the 79th successful graduate of the program (which had a 75 percent dropout rate overall). Commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Crockett became a member of the 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group (also known as the "Red Tails") during World War II. He flew 149 combat missions over a 15-month tour of duty in Italy during 1944-45 when fifty missions constituted a regular tour of duty.

In 1970, Crockett retired from the Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel after 28 years on flight status, with 20 years of jet experience, approximately 5,000 hours of flying time, and 520 hours in combat. He has piloted the P-39, P-40, P-47, P-51 Mustang, the F-80 Shooting Star, the F-86 D/L-All Weather Interception, the F-106, and the B-17. He received numerous awards during his military career including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Presidential Unit Citation, two Soldier's Medals for bravery, the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, and the Meritorious Service Medal. In October of 1992, Lt. Col. Crockett became the first African American inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame, and in October of 1995 he was inducted into the Arkansas African-American Hall of Fame.

President Bill Clinton selected Lt. Col. Crockett to accompany him to Europe for the celebrations recognizing the 50th Anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. In Cambridge, England, Lt. Col. Crockett led the President down the Wall of Missing Airmen, an event that was captured in a front page photograph in the New York Times.

Lt. Col. Crockett is married to another Dunbar graduate, the former Daisy Juanita McMurry of Little Rock. They have four children and two grandchildren and reside in Annandale, Virginia.

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