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Home / Neighborhood / San Gabriel Valley / Monrovia Weekly / Tuskegee Airman LeRoy Criss Legacy Honored at Monrovia High School

Tuskegee Airman LeRoy Criss Legacy Honored at Monrovia High School

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By TerryMiller

During World War II, the Civil Aeronautics Authority selected 13black cadets to become part of an experimental program at the TuskegeeInstitute in Alabama.

As one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, Lieutenant LeRoy Criss washonored at Monrovia High School on Thursday, Feb. 27 with a special ceremonywitnessed by family and friends in addition to several council membersincluding Becky Shevlin, Larry Spicer and Mayor Tom Adams.

One young Monrovia High student, Tyler Spicer, 18, was so deeply moved by a Black history lecture by Ralph Walker last year that he devoted a full year to getting a plaque for a special man. Spicer was instrumental in getting a plaque devoted to Criss.

Criss, who passed away on May 20, 2008, spent 37 years as a highschool teacher and served 30 years as the co-director of Outward BoundAdventures, Inc. Deplorably, Monrovia wasn’t hiring African American educatorsat that time in history so he immediately got a post-war position at a LosAngeles high school in Fairfax.

It has been over seven decades since the legendary Tuskegee Airmenfought their first battle in the skies over North Africa.

These brave men were known then as “Redtails” — America’s firstblack combat pilots.

All African American military pilots who trained in the UnitedStates during World War II were educated in Tuskegee, Alabama. In all, almost athousand pilots trained there from 1941 to 1946. Of that number, 450 weredeployed overseas and 150 lost their lives, including 66 killed in action.

The Tuskegee Airmen werethe first African American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces.During World War II, black Americans in many U.S. states were still subjectto Jim Crowlaws and the American military was raciallysegregated, as was much of the federal government. The Tuskegee Airmen weresubjected to discrimination, both within and outside the army.

Despite the rampant racism, Criss flew with the legendary Tuskegee Airmen from 1943 to 1946 andlearned to operate numerous aircraft, including the B-25 Mitchell Bomber.

Known as “Buster,” Criss attended Monrovia Arcadia Duarte HighSchool.

Colonel Charles E. McGee, national president of the TuskegeeAirmen, once said of the Tuskegee Airmen: “The Tuskegee story is an importantcivil rights story of Americans who happen to be black, in service to theircountry, their family, and to their friends — in that order.”

Criss is survived by his three children, Cassandra Criss, ReneeCriss, LeNeal Criss and his wife, Laura; and his grandchildren, Silas Criss,Akele Criss-Thompson, Jahmal Gillespie, and Karma Gillespie; and hisgreat-grandson, Zion Gil Lespie. LeRoy is also survived by his niece, CarolynWest and a host of loving family.

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