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Nikki Statler, Director of Marketing  |  269.350.2811

Honoring Black History Month at the Air Zoo - Robert Clare Chandler

From Michigan to Tuskegee to Local Hero 

Let's kick things off with Michigan’s Robert Clare Chandler (1922-2004). Clare earned his wings through the experimental black pilots’ program at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute. Some expected the program to fail, but the Tuskegee program proved successful. Clare served as part of that success.  

One of five children born and raised in Allegan, Clare found his aviation passion at age 14 when he heard P-36 Hawks flying Army maneuvers over his home. Interest in a family friend’s private plane further inspired Clare to fly.  

He learned about the aviation cadet program in the newspaper and his love of math and physics helped him ace the cadet test. Clare enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces in December 1942 and graduated with Tuskegee's Class 44B-SE in February 1944. As a member of the 99th, Clare flew 49 combat missions. On his 21st mission, he crash-landed his aircraft deep behind enemy lines and experienced quite an adventure before reuniting with his unit. 

Clare returned home to Allegan after the war. He wed Virginia, whom he’d met at Tuskegee, and they made a life together with son Wendell. He studied science at Western Michigan University and worked at Rockwell International until his retirement. 

See objects from Clare’s personal life and military career—on loan from Clare’s granddaughter, Kim—in our exclusive From Michigan to Tuskegee to Local Hero exhibit displayed in our East Wing. Objects featured include Clare’s ID card (pictured), Air Medal, and silk evasion map, which further interprets his travels through enemy territory. 

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