Memorial services were held at Inglewood Park Cemetery Tuesday for Claude Davis, who in the 1940s joined an elite group of Black pilots at Alabama’s Tuskegee Army Air Field. That group helped break down color barriers in the United States Army. Davis was 92.
In a 2005 interview, Davis recalled his arrival in Alabama and his first experience flying.
“I’d say the 12 months I spent at Tuskegee was probably the most enjoyable 12 months of my military career,” he said. “It was exciting. It was interesting. I knew nothing about airplanes.”
“The first step was to be accepted as a flight cadet and pass the physical,” he said. “Then came 10 weeks of pre-flight training, learning the systems that support flight like how to use the radio, basic meteorology, and so on. After passing the pre-flight, it was on to primary flight training for 10 to 12 weeks. At that point, we actually got to fly. The last step was basic flight where we had combat training and learned air combat. When we were done with that, we had to make a decision about what type of advanced training we wanted to have–bombers, fighters, etc. I choose bombers.”
Davis wasn’t released immediately after the war ended. He was assigned to Fort Lewis in Washington until 1946 when he again became a civilian. “My original plan had been to go back to Pittsburgh and start a flight school,” Davis said, “but we drove down to Northern California to see some of my wife’s relatives and ended up in the Berkeley area where we stayed and raised three children. I liked the area immediately. No one was shooting at me and there was no snow!”
Davis was called back to duty when the Korean War started, but was able to avoid additional service it because of an order that came through stating that if you had four or more dependents you could claim hardship, and he did just that. Davis went back home to his family where he graduated from college and later started a real estate business which he continued to work almost until his death.
Davis, who battled prostate cancer, died April 30 at Centinela Hospital Medical Center. He is survived by his wife, Martha Cruise-Davis; a daughter, Susan; three sons, Claude Jr., Michael and Steven; seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
The Commemorative Air Force Red Tail project contributed to this article.