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Freeman Field Mutiny

Officers of the 477th Bombardment Group (Medium) prepare to board planes in April 1945 at Freeman Field, Ind., to be transferred to Godman Field, Ky. Dozens of officers were arrested for trying to enter a white officers’ club at the base, a move that came to be known as the Freeman Field Mutiny. The photo was likely taken by Sgt. Harold J. Beauliu Sr., who hid a camera in a shoebox. Other photos taken by black photographers were destroyed. (Library of Congress)

The 332nd Fighter Group, the first all-black fighter squadron, deployed from Tuskegee Army Air Field in April 1943. The 477th Bombardment Group (Medium), the first and only black bomber group created during World War II, was constituted four months later. However, the group was never fully manned and never saw combat.

On April 5, 1945, members of the 477th attempted to integrate an all-white officers’ club. Military regulations said any officers’ club was open to any officer, but Freeman Field, near Seymour, Ind., had two officers’ clubs: One was open to “trainees” and the other was open to “supervisors.” Black officers were classified as trainees, and white officers were classified as supervisors.

Lt. Roger “Bill” Terry and 2nd Lt. Coleman Young came up with a plan to send black officers to the white club, three at a time. As the black officers attempted to enter, they were arrested; Terry and Young kept sending more officers.

“When it was number 60 or 61, it was my turn,” Terry said in a 2005 interview with PBS. “So I went, and when I got down there, they said, ‘You can’t come in.’”

The officer at the door told Terry he was not allowed in because he was black.

“So I went around him and went into the officers’ club, and an officer, a major, he placed me under arrest.”

103 black officers of the 477th Bomber Squadron were arrested that night, including Terry and Young. Only three were court martialed, and the ensuing trial drew national attention. Lt. Marsden A. Thompson and Lt. Shirley R. Clinton were acquitted; Terry was acquitted on the main charge of disobeying an order, but convicted of “jostling” an officer. He was fined $150, reduced in rank and dishonorably discharged from the Army. The 477th was moved from Indiana to a base in Kentucky following the incident.

Terry eventually became a lawyer. Young, his co-conspirator, became Detroit’s first black mayor. In 1995, 50 years after his conviction, the U.S. Army pardoned Terry, restored his rank and gave him back his $150.

“It told me that after 50 years, after 70 years, after 100 years, if you’re right, you can be vindicated because we’re a nation of laws,” Terry said in the 2005 interview.

The Freeman Field Mutiny is regarded as an important step toward the integration of the U.S. military, which became official on July 26, 1948. The 477th was inactivated on July 1, 1947.

On August 12, 1995, Rodney A. Coleman, assistant secretary of the Air Force for  manpower, reserve affairs, installations, and environment, announced vindication of black officers who had been arrested at Freeman Field in April 1945 for resisting segregated officers’ clubs. Letters of reprimand were removed from the permanent military records of fifteen who requested such action. At the same time, Roger C. Terry, the only one of the officers convicted in court martial, was exonerated. The Air Force restored all the rights, privileges, and property Terry had lost because of his conviction.

On October 1, 2007, the 477th Bombardment Group was redesignated the 477th Fighter Group and reactivated as the first Air Force Reserve unit to fly, maintain and support the F-22A Raptor. It is based at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.