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4/21/06 Sun-Times--W.R.Thompson

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Bill Thompson (center) at a Meigs Field Young Eagles rally.

Chicago Sun-Times obituary, 4/21/06:

William R. Thompson
1916 - April 15, 2006

Was one of famed Tuskegee Airmen

April 21, 2006

BY DAVE NEWBART Staff Reporter

William R. Thompson was one of the first six aviation cadets to join the all-black 99th Pursuit Squadron in 1941 during World War II.

The group, which grew to more than 1,000, later became known as the "Tuskegee Airmen'' and became well-known for heroism in combat during the war.

Mr. Thompson, who served as a captain in charge of armament for his group, later worked as a teacher for a quarter of a century in the Chicago Public Schools.

He died of heart failure April 15 at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. He was 90.

Mr. Thompson was born in Pittsburgh, the son of a caterer and a homemaker. His mother died when he was just 2 weeks old.

As a young boy, he dreamed about flying. "He had a passion since he was a little kid to fly,'' said son Ken Thompson.

The elder Thompson received an undergraduate degree in business administration from the Hampton Institute in Virginia. While a student he got a civilian pilot's license.

After he graduated in 1940, he moved to Chicago to attend school at The Coffey School of Aeronautics. The school was one of the few that would train blacks to be pilots, Ken Thompson said.

Mr. Thompson then enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941. He was part of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, stationed in Downstate Rantoul. The squadron also included black fighter pilots who trained in Tuskegee, Ala. It later became known as the 99th Fighter Squadron, the first all-black fighter squadron in the U.S.

Mr. Thompson became a Group Armament Officer -- responsible for making sure the planes were properly armed and ready to go -- for the 332nd Fighter Group, which had joined the 99th Fighter Squadron.

Mr. Thompson served as unofficial photographer for the group, documenting its activities in many places overseas. Many of those photos have been donated to museums around the country, Ken Thompson said.

He loved flying, planes

Mr. Thompson was honorably discharged after the war but joined the Air Force Reserves.

He returned to Chicago, living in the Chatham and Hyde Park neighborhoods, and completed advanced accounting courses at Northwestern in 1950. In 1954, he received a teaching certificate from the Chicago Teachers College. He taught for 25 years in the Chicago Public Schools, mainly at Donoghue Elementary School.

Even while teaching, Mr. Thompson spent much of his free time around planes. He co-owned a single-engine Cherokee and spent nearly every weekend with fellow pilots at Midway and Gary airports, his son said.

Mr. Thompson pushed students to study math and science and aviation. He helped organize a Tuskegee Airmen program that gave kids airplane rides at the now-defunct Meigs Field. He also recruited minorities to attend the Air Force Academy.

He worked to preserve the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, serving as a past president of its Chicago chapter and donating photos and documents to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington and the Tuskegee Airmen National Museum in Detroit.

He retired from the Air Force Reserves in 1976 after achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel. He retired from CPS in 1981.

Ken Thompson said his father stopped flying at 70 out of safety concerns.

In addition to his son, Mr. Thompson is survived by his wife, Vera; another son, William; and one granddaughter.

Visitation is from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. today at St. Mark United Methodist Church, 8441 S. St. Lawrence, Chicago. A service is at 11 a.m. Interment follows at Oak Woods Cemetery, 1035 E. 67th, Chicago.

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