Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Calvin Spann, 90, One of Famed Tuskegee Airmen

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Calvin Spann, 90, One of Famed Tuskegee Airmen

Article excerpt

Calvin Spann, a Rutherford native and former Englewood resident who was one of the Tuskegee Airmen, the trailblazing group of African-American military pilots during World War II, died Sunday at his home in Allen, Texas.

Lieutenant Spann's death at the age of 90 was first reported by station NBC 5-KXAS, the Dallas-Fort Worth television station. Family members told the television station that they planned to hold a memorial service in New Jersey, although details had not yet been finalized. Information about survivors also was not immediately available.

Born in 1924, Lieutenant Spann left Rutherford in 1943 to join the U.S. Army Air Corps, at a time when all branches of the U.S. Armed Services were still segregated. But it was also a time when the necessities of war had begun to chip away at the wall of segregation, and he saw an opportunity to pursue his dream of flying when the Army sent him to flight training at Tuskegee Flight School in Alabama.

Lieutenant Spann told The Record in a 2012 interview that, as a child, he was fascinated by the planes he saw taking off from Teterboro Airport. He read "The Adventures of Smiling Jack," an aviation comic strip, and wanted to do the things Jack did. He learned about the physics of flying while a student at Rutherford High School.

"I was determined, because from the very beginning -- I don't know why or where it came from -- but the rumor was out there that because I was black, I couldn't learn. I was determined to prove that wrong."

Lieutenant Spann earned his wings and the rank of lieutenant and was assigned to the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group, the all-black aviator unit. From 1941 through 1946, roughly 1,000 African-American men trained at Tuskegee University to become military pilots.

The Tuskegee Airmen were known as "Red Tails" for the distinctive markings on their planes. Lieutenant Spann flew 26 combat missions, including a 1,600-mile round trip from Ramtelli, Italy, to Berlin, Germany, in March 1945 that was considered the longest bomber escort mission of the 15th Air Force. …

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