Rockford resident for 38 years and former photojournalist at the Rockford Register Star, Fred Hutcherson III was featured in an article in the February 2012 Ebony magazine.
Hutcherson is the son of the late Fred Hutcherson Jr. (1912-62), a pilot with a famous career in Evanston, Chicago and Miami, and in South, Central and North America. He was recognized as the first African-American pilot to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. But it was his dedicated service during World War II as a flight instructor at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama that eventually earned him a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal.
This medal was America’s highest civilian honor and was given in 2007 to the Tuskegee Airmen as a group for their contribution as World War II pilots.
Last month, Fred Hutcherson III accepted the medal on his father’s behalf, receiving a bronze replica of the Tuskegee Airmen medal. The medal cited the all-black Tuskegee Airmen’s “unique military record that inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces.” The reference was to President Harry S. Truman’s 1948 Executive Order No. 9981 endorsing equality of treatment and opportunity in all U.S. military groups. This act eventually ended racial segregation in the U.S. armed forces.
Flight Officer Hutcherson learned to fly at age 18, after his father gave him an open-cockpit biplane, the OX5 Travel Air, slightly larger than a Piper Cub. He spent much of his time flying at the Northwest Airport in Des Plaines, and by the time he was 20, he was managing the airport.
He also spent some time at the Curtiss Wright airfield, established in 1929, before Glenview Naval Air Station took it over. He watched the planes take off and land and was even allowed to tinker with obsolete, out-of-commission engines. About 1932, he was named manager of Northbrook’s Sky Harbor Airport, where he found a couple mentors.
But he wanted to fly for his country. When he found he was not wanted because of his race, he headed to Canada, where he became a flight instructor for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1940. The next year, he volunteered for the RCAF Ferry Command, a new program that would put him in the air. After rigorous testing, he was graduated into the command and became one of only 33 men, and the only black man, to fly much-needed bombers to England for the war.
By 1942, Capt. Hutcherson had flown across the Atlantic many times, and his name appeared in Chicago newspapers. A women’s group was formed to support the troops. In 1943, Capt. Hutcherson left the RCAF Ferry Command, and with a six-month deferment, signed on with the British West Indian Airways as a transport pilot based in Miami. In late 1943, the Army finally drafted him and sent him to Tuskegee Army Air Field, where he trained black pilots with the U.S. Air Corps until the end of the war. After the war, he and other Tuskegee pilots started the DODO chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., named after the dodo bird, which, like them, was flightless.
But Flight Officer Hutcherson found a way to stay in the air, working as a flight instructor at the Ravenswood Airport, on Touhy north of where O’Hare Airport now is. In 1946, he and two former Tuskegee Airmen founded a pilot school in Haiti. He also began selling small planes, and in 1949 moved on to become chief pilot for a new airline in Colombia, South America, the Sociedad Aeronautic Medellin (SAM). In 1951, he was flying for Midway Air Lines Charter Service out of Sky Harbor and by 1956 had his own charter firm based at Meigs Field.
Flight Officer Fred Hutcherson Jr. died July 6, 1962, at Evanston Community Hospital. He was survived by his wife, Regina Laurent Hutcherson, and their son, Fred III. He was buried at Montrose Cemetery in Chicago with full military honors and an aerial salute from pilots flying in formation. Almost 50 years later, June 18, more than 100 family members, friends and fellow Evanstonians attended the posthumous presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to “a true American patriot,” as U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky called him.
From the Feb. 22-28, 2012, issue