2LT William Edward Hill

2LT William Edward Hill

Tappahannock, Essex County, Virginia, USA
Death 22 Nov 1943 (aged 20)
Iosco County, Michigan, USA
Burial Buried or Lost at Sea
Memorial ID 204595532 · View Source
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2nd Lieutenant, World War II
Member of the Tuskegee Airmen
302nd Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group

The son of William Isaac and Fannie Esther (Monroe) Hill, he moved with his family, including sister Gloria, from Essex County, Virginia at an early age to Narragansett, Rhode Island where his father worked as a truck driver and later owned and operated the Surf Garage.

A 1941 graduate of South Kingston High School, he developed an interest in aviation and after graduation worked at jobs closely related to this interest, including with the U.S. Engineers at Fort Nathaniel Greene.

After being denied entry into an aviation cadet program he sent a written appeal directly to President Franklin Roosevelt and was ultimately accepted into the flight training program at Tuskegee Army Air Field in December 1942. Graduating on August 30, 1943, William thus became the first African American pilot from Rhode Island commissioned in the Army Air Corps.

At a time when the armed forces were still segregated, Tuskegee graduates were assigned for further training at Oscoda, MI, whereas white pilots trained at nearby Selfridge Field. Assigned to the 302nd Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group, William was flying above Lake Huron, approximately three miles off shore, when the engine of his P-39Q caught fire. He was able to parachute from the plane, but, unable to free himself from his harness, was dragged beneath the water’s surface and drowned. Efforts to retrieve his body were unsuccessful.

A later investigation by the Army Air Corps showed that members of the 302nd were often given defective or inferior planes by which to train and that the particular plane William was piloting at the time of his death had a history of engine problems.

William is recognized on the “World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing” for the State of Rhode Island in 1946. He was specially recognized in 2009 when he was inducted into the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame with a “Minorities in Aviation, Special Recognition Award. As a special note, the American flag that was presented to the Hill family on behalf of a grateful nation has flown from a flag pole beside the family home in Narragansett on a daily basis since its initial presentation.

A special thanks to Nicholas Jose Tenuto of the “CAF Red Tail Squadron Monthly Newsletter” for providing details in the October 2019 newsletter on William Edward Hill’s life.

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  • Created by: Donald Thompson
  • Added: 10 Nov 2019
  • Find a Grave Memorial 204595532
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for 2LT William Edward Hill (21 Jul 1923–22 Nov 1943), Find a Grave Memorial no. 204595532, ; Maintained by Donald Thompson (contributor 46594704) Buried or Lost at Sea.