Documented original Tuskegee Airman, 2nd Lieutenant Herbert Thorpe, is not your average male in America. He is a living legend, and he has surpassed many averages. Born in New York 100 years ago on January 9, 1923, Thorpe has exceeded the average life expectancy, and he and his younger brother Richard both have a place in history for their military careers as Tuskegee Airmen.
Herbert Thorpe attended Brooklyn Public Schools and received his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from New York University. Thorpe had his basic military training at Fort Dix in New Jersey. He then traveled throughout the United States to receive advanced military training in New York, Texas, Utah, Florida, Alabama, Maryland, and Mississippi. Training included gunnery and primary flight training, multi-engine aircraft training in the B-25, and navigator and bombardier training.
Herbert and his brother Richard were both alumni of the esteemed Tuskegee Airmen. Richard trained at the Tuskegee Institute before Herbert, and they flew together stateside. Richard would later be killed during a training incident while in Italy.
Trained as a pilot, navigator, and bombardier, Herbert did not go into combat. After the war, he retired with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant Col. and returned to New York. He is one of the forefathers of the Air Traffic Control system in use today. He worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yards as a Radar Systems Engineer and then as a Radar Research Engineer at the Rome Air Development Center, Griffiss AFB in Rome, New York. He retired from the military in 1982.
Thorpe was a counselor at a New York community college until 1997. He worked with and was a past president of an NAACP chapter and has proudly served his church home for over 50 years. Thorpe also continues to give back to his local community, participating in all functions focusing on the youth of all races. He is active in the Claude B. Govan chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc.
At 100 years young, Mr. Thorpe is not only of sound mind but also in fair health physically! His smile and laugh are contagious, and his calendar and days are mostly full! His younger brothers have passed on, but Herbert has made it to 100 years old like his father before him!
Mr. Thorpe was married for 65 years to Jessie M. Shorts of the Bronx, NY. They had two children, Jessica and Clifton; four granddaughters, Maisha, Stephanie, Natalie, and Leslie; one grandson, Kahlil; one great-grandson, Gibran; and one great-granddaughter, Azariah Marie. He was preceded in death by his brother Richard, a documented Tuskegee Airman and a Class 44-l-SE graduate who died in Italy in April 1945.
Mr. Thorpe’s community involvement includes his service as a 50-year Member of First Presbyterian Church, Rome; Charter Member, Secretary & Past President; Rome Branch NAACP Charter Member & Secretary; Former Prince Hall Military Lodge No. 112 Charter Member; Secretary, Afro-American Heritage Association, Rome; Charter Member, Past President, Secretary; Mohawk Valley Frontiers Club Past Member, Advisory Board; Oneida County Office for the Aging Member and a Member of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. (TAI), Claude B. Govan Tri-State Chapter in NY.
He received the 1st New York State Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award in 2012 and in 2013, the Rome Historical Society 1777 Medal of Honor Award.
The Tuskegee Airmen flew and protected their fellow airmen during the Second World War. They were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their vital contributions during World War II.
Recent years had shown that in 1949 when the first Air Force Top Gun competition took place, Tuskegee Airmen Capt. Alva Temple, 1st Lt. Col. Harry Stewart, 1st Lt. James H. Harvey III, and alternate Halbert Alexander were the first to win it.
To learn more and help continue the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, please contact: Claude B Govan chapter of Tuskegee Airmen.