Charles B. Hall probably had no idea he would become instrumental in helping his country dominate the air space over foreign lands in World War II and break down the barriers of prejudice at home in America.
Born Aug. 25, 1920, Hall grew up during the Great Depression.
Before the civil rights movement of the 1960s, many African-American families of the 1930s were living separate lives than those of white families across the United States. It was a time of separate restrooms and water fountains, job and wage discrimination and segregation.
While African-American children across the nation were forced to attend inferior schools, Hall attended Brazil High School and excelled at several sports.
Upon graduation in 1938, Hall attended Eastern Illinois State Teachers College, where he excelled at track and football while studying premedics.
In the meantime, in anticipation of the United States being drawn into World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented a pilot training program to create a reserve of trained civilian fliers in case of national emergency.
African-American leaders argued that blacks should share with whites the burden of defending the United States, and Roosevelt soon opened the program to African-Americans.
In 1940, the Selective Training and Service Act banned racial discrimination, clearing the way for African Americans to be trained for Civilian Air Corps service.
The African Americans were sent to Tuskegee Institute, a college founded in Alabama in 1881 by Booker T. Washington, to be trained. Hall was one of the first of 43 African Americans to participate in the training.
With the war looming in July 1941, Tuskegee Army Air Field was established and the training changed to create fighter pilots. The first fighter pilots graduated on March 7, 1942, forming the 99th Pursuit Fighter Squadron, a part of the 332nd Fighter Group.
1st Lt. Hall was part of the squadron of "red tails," whose planes' tails were painted a distinctive red, when it went to North Africa in April 1943.
The squadron flew its first combat mission against the island of Pantelleria, Tunisia, North Africa, on June 2, 1943.
A little more than a month later on July 2, Hall's squadron was providing cover for a formation of B-25 "Mitchell" bombers when more than 20 German fighter planes attacked over Castelvetrano Field, Sicily.
Flying his plane "The Maxine" -- a P-40 Warhawk named for his wife -- between the US planes and the German planes, Hall was the first African American pilot to shoot down a German Focke-Wulf FW190. It was his eighth mission and also the unit's first aerial victory against the Luftwaffe.
Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his valor, Hall's squadron presented him with its own precious reward, a chilled bottle of Coca-Cola.
In the United States, on July 19, Hall, 22, was honored with a coast-to-coast radio salute during the CBS-WFBH "Blondie" program.
During the war the squadron flew more than 3,000 missions while never loosing a bomber during a fighter escort.
A total of 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 744 Air Medals, eight Purple Hearts and 14 Bronze Stars were handed out to the famous pilots of the experimental program.
Rising to the rank of Major before retiring from the Air Force, Hall shot down a total of three enemy planes during World War II, which was only exceeded by fellow Tuskegee Airman Capt. Edward L. Toppins (Toppins shot down four enemy planes).
After the war, Hall continued to work at Tinker Air Force Base before going on to work with the Federal Aviation Administration. Upon retiring, Hall became a popular, successful insurance agent in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The United States Air Force was the first service to erase the color line, thanks largely to the pioneering efforts and courageous legacy of the African-American airmen like Major Charles B. Hall.
Information was provided by The National Archives.com (www.archives.gov), The National Museum of the United States Air Force (www.nationalmuseum.af.mil), the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., (www.tuskegeeairmen.org), Tuskegee University (www.tuskegee.edu) and African Americans.com (www.africanamericans.com).