Howard A. Wooten (1920-1948)

Tuskegee Airman Howard Adolphus Wooten was born on April 20, 1920 in Lovelady, Texas to parents Johnnie C. Morris Wooten and Howard L. Wooten.  His father was the principal of the “colored school” in Lovelady, a town 100 miles northeast of Houston, and his mother also was a teacher there. 

Wooten grew up near Lovelady in the Davy Crockett National Forest and in 1937 at seventeen and entered Prairie View College on a football scholarship.  His main interest however was in aviation and he attempted to enroll in flight training programs.  His father objected, however, because he didn’t think airplanes were safe and because he wanted his son to finish college.  

Howard A. Wooten dropped out of Prairie View College in 1940 and enlisted in the U.S. army as a private assigned to a Field Artillery unit.  He rose through the ranks becoming a Staff Sergeant in the 46th Field Artillery Brigade by January 1942.    

Now 22, and no longer needing his parent’S permission to enter flight training programs, he applied to the Army Flight School at Tuskegee, Alabama in 1943 (need specific date - This I do not know it might have been in early 1944) and graduated in December 1944, then was assigned to the 15th USAAF Brigade as a fighter pilot, in the 332nd Fighter Group. 

Soon after graduation from the Tuskegee Fighter pilot school, in January 1945 he was assigned to the 477th Bombardment Group and additionally trained with North American B-25 Mitchell bombers.  The multi-engine pilot training was at Mather Field, California.  They never served in combat as the war ended before they were sent overseas. 

Howard A. Wooten was mustered out of the U.S. Army Air Corps after the war ended in 1946.   (Below is a Wikapedia story on the history of the 477 Bombardment Group, which was created after years of protests by the NAACP to integrate the bomber pilot ranks, and all other aspects of the segregated U.S. military.    Because they were new and bucking the segregation system the black bomber pilots experienced a lot of discriminatory treatment)

After the war Howard A. Wooten he decided to become an attorney and moved to Seattle Washington with 4 brothers and a sister because Washington state was as far from the “Jim Crow” Texas that one could get and still be in the USA, and he went to work for the Boeing Airplane Company.  

Howard A. Wooten became a production worker at Boeing and joined the Aeronautical Machinists Union.  While working on the assembly line he met Josephine A. Stratman, another Boeing production worker.  They were married in 1947.  

While working at Boeing, Howard A. Wooten bought trailers in Seattle which he transported 300 miles to Hanford Washington to rent to employees at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.    He was entrepreneur working at several things profit making endeavors.   

In 1948 the machinist union went on strike at Boeing.  Because he and his wife had an infant, Wooten joined the Painter’S Union and took work painting bridges around Seattle.  He died on August 20, 1948, at the age of 28, after he fell 70 feet from a scaffold while painting the 12th Avenue Bridge at the base of Beacon Hill.

Long after his death, Howard A. Wooten was memorialized by the U.S. Air Force when his World War II pilot’S photograph was chosen by an advertising agency to represent the famed Tuskegee Airmen.  His photo was first seen on Air Force recruiting posters in the 1990’s and was later adopted as the official image of the Tuskegee Airman Foundation.  The photograph in the National Archives has also been seen in public media including ESPN, Flight, Ebony, Sports Illustrated, and other periodicals.  

Sources:   Obituary of Howard A. Wooten published after his death in the Seattle Post Intelligencer August 1948, conversations with his brothers Hayes L. Wooten,  Octavius Wooten (deceased) and A.G. Wooten, who was at Pearl Harbor in the Navy on Dec. 7, 1941 and his widow Josephine A. Stokes. 



Atty. Andre’ Wooten

Independent Historian    & 

The U.S. Air Force or government contacted my mother for permission or even to inform her that they were using her deceased husbands photo on recruiting posters.    

That is why I began my original article stating I was shocked they were using it.   It was I who informed my mother about it.     She was also later surprised to see Howard A’S photo being sold on T-shirts when she went to the opening of Seattle’S NorthWest African American Museum, which is located in the former Coleman School where she taught 3 grade for 10 years.  

I first saw the poster and picture in ESPN magazine in 2002 in Border’S Books store, in an Air Force recruiting ad during the Iraq war.    I bought it and showed it to a client of mine, Matthew Harrell  who was a 20 year retired Air Force vet.    And he told me he had seen it on Air Force bases around the world for years.    Which was a surprise to me. 

When I tracked down the advertising agency used by the Air Force to inquire why that had not contacted the family for permission to use the photo or even inform someone in the family.    My grandfather’s farm where Howard A. grew up in the Davy Crockett National Forrest is still in the family by the way, and I own Howard A’s 1/12 share of the 1500 acres.      So a letter written there would have been received by my aunt or uncle who have farms in the area and take care of the place and forwarded to me, had there been one.     

The lady at the Ad agency explained that they did not need our permission, as the U.S. Army owned the photo, which is in the National Archives section on the Tuskegee Airmen.    The government’s ownership of it allows the government to use it for “non-commercial purposes” like education and information to honor the Tuskegee Airmen, without permission of the person or their heirs.   

I did not want to sue the government over the issue, and my fathers brothers and sisters were pleased that his legacy and memory was still being recognized and revered more than 60 years after his death. 

Mom said he did not fly for Boeing.    Boeing offered good jobs to black folks during and after     the war in comparison with the South.    My mom worked her way through Clark College in Atlanta working summers in Seattle at Boeing and moved to Seattle after she graduated in 1947 and married Howard, whom she had met the year before. 

The Tuskegee Airmen [1] is the popular name of a group of African-American pilots who fought in World War II. Formally, they formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Corps 

Although the 477th Bombardment Group trained with North American B-25 Mitchell bombers, they never served in combat. The 99th Pursuit Squadron (later, 99th Fighter Squadron) was the first black flying squadron, and the first to deploy overseas (to North Africa in April 1943, and later to Sicily and Italy). The 332nd Fighter Group, which originally included the 100th, 301st, and 302nd Fighter Squadrons, was the first flying group. The group deployed to Italy in early 1944. In June 1944, the 332nd Fighter Group began flying bomber escort missions, and in July 1944, the 99th Fighter Squadron was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group, which then had four fighter squadrons.

Tuskegee Airmen bomber units


With African-American fighter pilots being trained successfully, the Army Air Force now came under political pressure from the NAACP and other civil rights organizations to organize a bomber unit. There could be no defensible argument that the quota of 100 African-American pilots in training at one time,[36] or 200 per year out of a total of 60,000 American aviation cadets in annual training,[37] represented the service potential of 13 million African Americans.[N 6]

On 13 May 1943, the 616th Bombardment Squadron was established as the initial subordinate squadron of the 477th Bombardment Group. The squadron was activated on 1 July 1943, only to be inactivated on 15 August 1943.[25] By September 1943, the number of washed-out cadets on base had surged to 286, with few of them working.[38] In January 1944, the 477th Bombardment Group was reactivated.    At the time, the usual training cycle for a bombardment group took three to four months.[39] The 477th would eventually contain four medium bomber squadrons. Slated to comprise 1,200 officers and enlisted men, the unit would operate 60 North American B-25 Mitchell bombers. [N 7] The 477th would go on to encompass three more bomber squadrons–the 617th Bombardment Squadron, the 618th Bombardment Squadron, and the 619th Bombardment Squadron.[41] The 477th was anticipated to be ready for action in November 1944.[42]

The home field for the 477th was Selfridge Field, located outside Detroit, however, other bases would be used for various types of training courses. Twin-engine pilot training began at Tuskegee while transition to multi-engine pilot training was at Mather Field, California.    Some ground crews trained at Mather before rotating to Inglewood, California. Gunners learned to shoot at Eglin Field, Florida. Bombers-navigators learned their trades at Hondo Army Air Field and Midland Field, Texas, or at Roswell, New Mexico. Training of the new African-American crewmen also took place at Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Lincoln, Nebraska and Scott Field, Belleville, Illinois. Once trained, the air and ground crews would be spliced into a working unit at Selfridge.[43][44]

Command difficulties

The new group'S first Commanding Officer was Colonel Robert Selway, who had also commanded the 332nd Fighter Group before it deployed for combat overseas. Like his ranking officer, Major General Frank O'Driscoll Hunter from Georgia, Selway was a racial segregationist. Hunter was blunt about it, saying such things as, "...racial friction will occur if colored and white pilots are trained together." He backed Selway'S violations of Army Regulation 210-10, which forbade segregation of air base facilities. They segregated base facilities so thoroughly they even drew a line in the base theater and ordered separate seating by races. When the audience sat in random patterns as part of "Operation Checkerboard", the movie was halted to make men return to segregated seating.[45] African-American officers petitioned base Commanding Officer William Boyd for access to the only officer'S club on base. Lieutenant Milton Henry entered the club and personally demanded his club rights; he was court-martialled for this, and discharged.

Subsequently, Colonel Boyd denied club rights to African Americans although General Hunter stepped in and promised a separate but equal club would be built for black airmen.[46] The 477th was transferred to Godman Field, Kentucky before the club was built. They had spent five months at Selfridge but found themselves on a base a fraction of Selfridge'S size, with no air-to-ground gunnery range, and deteriorating runways that were too short for B-25 landings. Colonel Selway took on the second role of Commanding Officer of Godman Field. In that capacity, he ceded Godman Field'S officer club to African-American airmen. Caucasian officers used the whites-only clubs at nearby Fort Knox, much to the displeasure of African-American officers.[47]

Another irritant was a professional one for African-American officers. They observed a steady flow of white officers through the command positions of the group and squadrons; these officers stayed just long enough to be "promotable" before transferring out at their new rank. This seemed to take about four months. In an extreme example, 22 year old Robert Mattern was promoted to captain, transferred into squadron command in the 477th days later, and left a month later as a major. He was replaced by another Caucasian officer. Meanwhile, no Tuskegee Airmen held command.[48]

On 15 March 1945,[49] the 477th was transferred to Freeman Field, near Seymour, Indiana. The white population of Freeman Field was 250 officers and 600 enlisted men. Superimposed on it were 400 African-American officers and 2,500 enlisted men of the 477th and its associated units. Freeman Field had a firing range, usable runways, and other amenities useful for training. African-American airmen would work in proximity with white ones; both would live in a public housing project adjacent to the base. Colonel Selway turned the non-commissioned officers out of their club and turned it into a second officers club. He then classified all white personnel as cadre, and all African Americans as trainees. One officers club became the cadre'S club. The old Non-Commissioned Officers Club, promptly sarcastically dubbed "Uncle Tom'S Cabin", became the trainee'S officers club. At least four of the trainees had flown combat in Europe as fighter pilots, and had about four years in service. Four others had completed training as pilots, bombardiers and navigators, and may have been the only triply qualified officers in the entire Air Corps. Several of the Tuskegee Airmen had logged over 900 flight hours by this time. Nevertheless, by Colonel Selway's fiat, they were trainees.[49][50]

Off-base was no better; many businesses in Seymour would not serve African Americans. A local laundry would not wash their clothes, yet willingly laundered those of captured German soldiers.[49]

In early April 1945, the 118th Base Unit transferred in from Godman Field; its African-American personnel held orders that specified they were base cadre, not trainees. On 5 April, officers of the 477th peaceably tried to enter the whites-only Officer'S Club. Selway had been tipped off by a phone call, and had the assistant provost marshal and base billeting manager stationed at the door to refuse the 477th officers entry. The latter, a major, ordered them to leave, and took their names as a means of arresting them when they refused. It was the beginning of the Freeman Field Mutiny.[51]

In the wake of the Freeman Field Mutiny, the 616th and 619th were disbanded and the returned 99th Fighter Squadron assigned to the 477th on 22 June 1945; it was renamed the 477th Composite Wing as a result. On 1 July 1945, Colonel Robert Selway was relieved of the Group'S command; he was replaced by Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. A complete sweep of Selway'S white staff followed, with all vacated jobs filled by African-American officers. The war ended before the 477th Composite Group could get into action. The 618th Bombardment Squadron was disbanded on 8 October 1945. On 13 March 1946, the two-squadron group, supported by the 602nd Engineer Squadron (later renamed 602nd Air Engineer Squadron), the 118th Base Unit, and a band, moved to its final station, Lockbourne Field. The 617th Bombardment Squadron and the 99th Fighter Squadron disbanded on 1 July 1947, ending the 477th Composite Group. It would be reorganized as the 332nd Fighter Wing.[52][