Mac Ross was a member of the first graduating class of five officers from the Tuskegee Army Flying School. He was originally from Dallas County and not from Dayton, Ohio as often reported.
March 7 is known around the world as the date Bloody Sunday took place in 1965 in Selma, Alabama. But Selma has another connection with that date in March. On March 7, 1942 Mac Ross and four others, Benjamin Davis Jr., George Roberts, Charles BeBow Jr., Lemuel Custis, and Mac Ross and received silver wings of Army Air Force pilots. “These men completed the standard Army flight classroom instruction and many hours of flight time. Receiving their silver wings marked a milestone in being the first African Americans to qualify as military pilots in any branch of the armed forces.” These men were the first of the Tuskegee Airmen later to become known as the Red Tails.
Ross was selected for the elite group after being passed over for pilot training several times. Although the family was skeptical of his desire to become a pilot because of the lack of any black role models, his determination to succeed and his desire to fly eventually resulted in his selection. Mr. Ross excelled during his training at the Army Air Corps fighter pilot training school at Tuskegee, being described by one of his instructors as “a pilot’s pilot.”
Originally, the 332nd Fighter Group consisted of three Fighter Squadrons: the 100th, 301st , and 302nd. Shortly after entering combat, the group was expanded by the integration of the 99th.
The 100th was the first fighter squadron to become activated under the leadership of Lt Mac Ross at Tuskegee Army Airfield on May 26, 1942. Lt George Knox and Charles DeBow, both from Indianapolis, IN, were assigned as adjutants of the newly formed squadron. The Squadron remained at Tuskegee until March 27, 1943, and was then transferred to Selfridge Field, Mt Clements, MI as a component of the 332nd Fighter Group.
Changes in officer personnel were made in July of the same year. Lt Mac Ross now became the Group Operations Officer, and was the youngest Squadron Commander in the field. His service number was O-441129.
Ross was also a member of the Caterpillar Club — for all who used parachutes to save their lives and, when Ross bailed out of his P-40 at TAAFj, he became the first black member of the club.
Ross lost his life while in transition training to fly the P-51 Mustang. Witnesses to the crash could not explain why the aircraft nosed into the ground. It might have been mechanical failure.
Captain Mac Ross completed more than fifty combat missions during World War II. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Legion of Merit, numerous campaign medals and the Purple Heart; and, on June 27, 1989, the U.S. Postal Service in Dayton, Ohio posthumously dedicated the Mac Ross Memorial Philatelic Room.
The tribute said in part: “No greater can a man be than to give up his life for his country … A young black man, one of ten children, a college graduate, becoming one of the first black pilots in the U.S. Air Force, then a Commander of a Pursuit Squadron, manifests these three hallowed words echoed in time: obedience, integrity and courage. As a role model for today’s youth, Mac Ross has stood the lasting test. The indomitable and unflagging determination of Captain Mac
Ross in 1944 is still applicable in 1989 and will be in the year 2000. It is men like him who are the bricks and stones that make our country great… Mac Ross is a symbol of what men can achieve and what they should strive for.” NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that, I, Mayor George Patrick Evans, on behalf of city government and the citizens of Selma, Alabama, do hereby recognize the bravery and sacrifice of Dallas County native, Captain Mac Ross, and urge all citizens to honor his memory and the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.
He is buried at American Cemetery, Sicily-Rome, Italy, Plot J Row 15 Grave 70.
A salute to the Tuskegee Airmen!
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.