‘This Place in History’ takes us to the Edward F. Knapp State Airport with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins. 

“We’re learning about a remarkable guy, Robert Cole. He was an African American, grew up in Northfield, Vermont, and became a Tuskegee Airman. And he flew right here at this airport,” introduced Perkins.

Local historian Bill Lyon began, “A Tuskegee Airman was an African American that wanted to get into World War II to become pilots and prove their worth to a nation that was basically ignoring them. In the end, it was a group of approximately 1000 men, pilots trained in Tuskegee, Alabama at Tuskegee Institute. It happened to have an airfield and a contract with the government.”

“As it turned out, they were extremely good pilots that could easily be trained. There was still a lot of pressure on them in the service, in the Army Air Corps, then. There were a lot of commanding officers that didn’t care for them and didn’t think they could do the job.”

“President Roosevelt wasn’t totally convinced it could work and it was costing quite a lot of money. He sent his wife down to have a look at that situation and she was taken for a ride by the chief instructor there, a guy by the name of Chief Anderson. He convinced her that what they were doing there was right, it was going to work and was going to turn out some real good pilots in the end. He was right, they did. So she went home and told the President to keep it going and see how it worked,” explained Lyon. “In ’07 they were given a Congressional Award for their service to the country. It took that many years to recognize them.”

“And one of these Tuskegee Airman was from here in Vermont?” asked Perkins.

“The only Tuskegee Airman from Vermont was from Northfield. He was a leather shoe repairman. He ran a shop on E Street in Northfield. He applied for the Army Air Corps, was selected, and it went further and he had a chance to become a Tuskegee Airman,” remarked Lyon.

“He was probably kind of a sharp guy; he had a fairly good education from Northfield High School, did well there. He never got to leave the country. They kept him here because he was late in his classes, like a lot of them. I think there were roughly 1000 of them, and 500 left the country to go to Italy, North Africa and places like that, Germany. So he stayed here and did some air shows. That’s in his log book,” said Lyon.

“I have his year book. Bob graduated from Northfield High School in 1938,” said Lyon.

“Orchestra, chorus, dramatic club, basketball,” read Perkins. “And this is his log book.”

“Yes, this is like the Holy Grail of Tuskegee Airmen. It’s a pilot log book and it’s just a regular old log until you open it up. Then it’s got his name, R. A. Cole, and his class, 44-k, and then the date, May 27, 1944. And that’s when his flight classes started. And then as you go through, you’ll see all the records, the name of the airport, the model of the airplane, what he did, the hours,” explained Lyon.

Taking a flight back in time, at ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.