In today’s world, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that not everything good comes out of the big city. In fact, I’d almost wager that a fair percentage of good things and people come from more rural or small community settings.
This past week, which included Flag Day on Thursday, I was thinking about some of those men and women who have served our country, but especially in the military. But, I wanted to tell you about a man from our area who served in the military and was a vital part of the U.S. Air Force during World War II (WWII), who many, I am sure, have forgotten, or did not know about.
Robert Andy Gordon was a typical young man growing up in Troy and enjoying time with friends, family and attending school, perhaps dreaming of a career and marriage.
Robert was a good athlete and actively involved in four sports while at Troy High School, namely, track, tennis, football and basketball. According to his obituary, he lettered four times. He also participated in the Hi-Y and Nature clubs at the high school. But he also seemed to excel in his school work.
Following his graduation, he attended and then graduated (1939) from Howard University in Washington, D.C. with a degree in mathematics and physics.
In 1940, with the threat of war coming to the United States and the country preparing its defenses, young Mr. Gordon registered for the draft while living in the District of Columbia. His employer at the time was the U.S. Naval Department.
It is unknown how he received training, but, early in the 1940’s, Mr. Gordon became a civilian flight instructor with the Civilian Air Patrol (CAP) in Tuskegee, Alabama. Subsequently, he logged over 1,200 hours of flight and enlisted for service in the Air Force, and was commissioned as a flight officer at Tuskegee.
His work as a CAP flight instructor was very important to the war effort, in general, and to the Tuskegee Airmen, specifically. The CAP training was the first instruction in flight those men would receive. Lynn Homan and Thomas Reilly make this point in their book Black Knights: The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen when they stated, “The black civilian flight instructors were obviously the lifeblood of the program. Most wanted to become members of the Air Corps but were too valuable as instructors. Exempted from the draft, they were vital where they were – at Tuskegee. They were needed to teach the young cadets to fly.”
Robert A. Gordon was later made a member of the service command and was a commissioned flight officer at Tuskegee in 1945.
I am not aware of any missions flown, and his obituary does not indicate that he ever saw active service in combat, but just as nurses, mechanics, doctors, etc., Robert Gordon as a flight instructor at Tuskegee was not only important to the war effort and its success, but was also historic, and he came from little Miami County.
Tragically, in May, 1946, Flight Officer Gordon was killed in an airplane accident. It is unknown what caused the fatal crash. Robert A. Gordon did not leave a spouse or children, so we as a community to remember him as one of our men who died in service and defense of our nation. From all walks of life; they came, they served, and they sacrificed.
Patrick D. Kennedy is archivist at the Troy-Miami County Public Library’s Local History Library, 100 W. Main St., Troy. He may be contacted by calling (937) 335-4082 or sending an email to email@example.com