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Alva Temple, 86; Flew 120 Missions as Tuskegee Airman

September 02, 2004|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Alva Temple, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the first black pilots to fly in combat during World War II, has died. He was 86.

Temple died Saturday at his home in Columbus, Miss. The cause of death was not released.

Temple completed 120 missions during World War II, said Lucille Temple, his wife of nearly 60 years. He served in Italy, southern France and the Balkan nations.

Temple trained at Tuskegee, Ala., as part of a program set up by the Pentagon during the war. The entirely segregated training was rigorous; 992 men graduated as Tuskegee Airmen.

The black pilots were credited with shooting down more than 100 enemy aircraft and never losing an American bomber to enemy fighters. About 150 lost their lives in training or combat flights.

"I felt I could fly if given a chance," Temple told the Huntsville (Ala.) Times earlier this year. "A lot of people thought I was crazy. They thought I'd be killed, but I didn't pay them any attention. As long as I could abide by the requirements, I could take care of it."

In Charles E. Francis' "The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation" (2002, revised), Temple was described as a "reliable, dependable and unexcitable" pilot "who loved to fly and was always willing to make a mission though he realized the risk involved."

Temple said earlier this year that he hoped the airmen had played a part in integration. "All I can say is, things are not as bad as they used to be. New opportunities have been opened up to our blacks," he said.

The Tuskegee program was disbanded in 1946, but Temple stayed in the service, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

Last March, he told the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss.: "People need to remember us. People need to know that you can make it through anything and succeed."

Temple was born Sept. 5, 1917, in rural Carrollton, Ala. Before the war, he majored in agriculture at Alabama A&M University. He moved to Mississippi in the 1950s and ran a gas station in Columbus.

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