Regis D. Bobonis, Sr., PUM Contributor
"Black Pilots/Red Tails"
A poignant story of the love and devotion only brothers can share has surfaced in the research of Regis D. Bobonis, Sr., Chairman and Founder of the Sewickley Tuskegee Memorial Project. It is the story of the late Lieutenants Jerome and John Ellis Edwards of nearby Steubenville, Ohio, who records indicate enlisted here in Pittsburgh. The names of both men will be inscribed on the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial of the Greater Pittsburgh Region in the Sewickley Cemetery because the memorial's geographical reach includes the border cities of London, Weirton and Wheeling in West Virginia, Steubenville and Youngstown in Eastern Ohio, and Sharon and Erie in Pennsylvania to the north.
Their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Edwards, raised their two sons in nearby Steubenville, Ohio. Following high school, in 1935 they enrolled Jerome in West Virginia State College and John Ellis - at his insistence- followed Jerome to WVSC two years later.
When the college became the first traditional Black college to be chartered in the Government=s Civilian Pilot Training Program, both joined and became skilled licensed private pilots. Jerome graduated in 1940 just as World War II war clouds were gathering and promptly enlisted in the Tuskegee Flight Training Program, receiving his Wings and Commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in September of 1942. John followed his brother to Tuskegee, graduating as a 2nd Lieutenant on April 8, 1944.
Jerome was reassigned to the Army Air Force Base at Oscoda, Michigan, for advanced aerial combat training. In early May 1943, he was killed when the engine of his P40 War Hawk failed on take off. The Edwards family then faced a dilemma. John Ellis, as the lone remaining son, could have applied for a family hardship honorable discharge. He refused, deciding to remain in the Air Corps and dedicating his career as a fighter pilot to the memory of his brother. He went on to become one of the highly decorated combat pilots in the Tuskegee 332nd Fighter Group.
In early 1945, John Ellis was assigned to a replacement Group and transferred to the Ramitelli Army Air Force Base on the East Coast of Italy where he began multiple combat and bomber escort missions for the 12th and 15th Air Forces. In April of 1945, John Ellis was a Squadron Section Leader on a bombing and strafing mission over Nazi-held territory. When the Tuskegee pilots shot down 12 attacking enemy aircraft, John Ellis was decorated for single-handedly downing two ME 109s.
By the end of the war, John Ellis had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medals with Oak Leaf Clusters with the Flying Cross, and helped the 332nd Group earn a Presidential Unit citation for the combat skills of its pilots. He was called back during the Koran War, made the transition from piston aircraft to the F86 Sabre Jet, and flew multiple combat missions. John Ellis spent his retirement years in Los Angeles, California, and passed away on June 3, 1979.
It is expected relatives of the Edwards brother will be in attendance when the Memorial is dedicated in mid-September of this year, including Associate Justice Alan Page of the Minnesota Supreme Court and NFL Hall of Fame member.
Regis D. Bobonis, Sr.
"Black Pilots/Red Tails"
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