Tuskegee Airman James Wiley flew 101 missions

The 99th Fighter Squadron, a group of African-American pilots who flew combat missions during World War II, never lost an aircraft in 200 missions - a military record still unbroken.

But the history of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, and the history of one its fighters, is also fraught with tragedy.

Like many of his fellow aviators who fought the Germans in the skies over Anzio, Italy, during World War II, James Wiley was given a hero's welcome when he returned home in 1944. The mayor of Pittsburgh, Mr. Wiley's hometown, threw a parade in his honor and declared June 26, 1944, "Wiley Day."

But he also returned to prejudice and injustice.

Soon after his return, Mr. Wiley went to Alabama, where he had trained, to teach pilots. While riding buses there, the Air Force officer who flew 101 missions in a P-40 fighter plane, was relegated to the back.

"Once he got back home, he was discriminated against like every other black American in this country," his son Bill Wiley of Seattle recalled. "Even though he was a combat veteran and a captain."

James Wiley died last Wednesday (May 3) at his home in Seattle of a heart attack. He was 81.

The grandson of a slave, Mr. Wiley earned a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned a degree in physics. After graduation, he was rejected by several firms because of the color of his skin. Working as a chauffeur to pay the bills, Mr. Wiley heard about a government program to train pilots.

The training led him to Tuskegee, Ala., where an air base was established during World War II. Mr. Wiley was one of the original 24 men who joined the 99th Squadron and was in the first contingent of U.S. fliers to land in North Africa.

He continued his service in the Air Force until 1965, working at bases in Ohio and Massachusetts. He settled in Washington, where Mr. Wiley was an Air Force representative at Boeing until he retired in 1980.

Later in life, Mr. Wiley enjoyed the company of his family and was an active member of his church and the Queen City Yacht Club. He also counseled young people as a volunteer for King County Juvenile Court.

Mr. Wiley's other survivors include his wife of 55 years, Ruby, of Seattle; daughter, Mary; son Jim; and eight grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held 11 a.m. Friday at University Unitarian Church, 6556 35th Ave. N.E., Seattle.

Remembrances may be made to the church (ZIP: 98115) or to Swedish Home Health and Hospice, 5701 Sixth Ave. S., Suite 504, Seattle, WA 98108.

Joshua Robin's phone message number is 206-464-8255. His e-mail address is jrobin@seattletimes.com