A suburban Chicago post office has been named in honor of an original member of the famed all-black Tuskegee Airmen who flew scores of missions in World War II.
Gabrielle Martin told the Daily Southtown on Wednesday during a ceremony for Robert Martin at Olympia Fields Village Hall that her father would have been surprised by "all the fuss."
"Dad was really kind of a humble man," Gabrielle Martin said. Robert Martin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart.
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, who introduced legislation in February to name the post office for Martin, called him "an American hero."
Martin's children then attended the unveiling of a plaque in their father's honor at the post office. He lived in Olympia Fields from 2008 until his death at age 99 in July 2018.
Martin was born in Dubuque, Iowa, on Feb. 9, 1919. Before the war, Martin earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. He was a captain when he was discharged from the Army in 1945. He then worked as an electrical engineer in Chicago until retiring in 1988.
Martin was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen — a black aviator group who served in an era when African American military personnel trained and lived in segregated facilities. President Franklin Roosevelt's administration made flight instruction available at select black colleges under the Civilian Pilot Training Program, and an air base was created and devoted to training black pilots near the renowned Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, founded by the pioneering black educator Booker T. Washington.
Martin received his wings in 1944 and was commissioned a second lieutenant, then flew with a squadron based in Italy. On his 64th mission, Martin was shot down by enemy gunfire near Zagreb, Yugoslavia, in March 1945. He spent a month behind enemy lines with partisans in a secret Yugoslavian camp before the Allied advance allowed him to return to his base in Italy.
Despite the challenges he faced as a black man in the U.S. and the Army when "Jim Crow was alive and well," Gabrielle Martin said her father told his family he "had to take a stand" against Nazi atrocities, and "felt it was his duty to serve his country."