22.09.1944 No. 99 Fighter Squadron Mustang 42-106504 F/O. Leonard R. Willette
Operation: Bomber Escort - Munich Germany
Date: 22nd September 1944
Unit: No. 99th Fighter Squadron 332nd Fighter Group
Type: P51 Mustang
Serial: 42-106504 ""Wrong Woman""
Base: Ramitelli Airfield, Italy
Location: Freimehring (Bäckereianwesen Kaiser) Germany
Time: 12.33 Hrs.
Pilot: F/O. Leonard R. Willette T62308 USAAF Age 22. Killed
We are indebted to the American Legacy Museum Inc for the use of photographs and hope to work further with them in the future on other remembrance pages.
REASON FOR LOSS:
On an escort mission to Munich, Germany, his P-51, "Wrong Woman", had engine trouble (low Oil Pressure) and he said he was going to bail out - he was not seen again.
Left: F/O. Leonard R. Willette (courtesy Michel Beckers - via the ALM Inc)
Ist Lt. Herman A. Lawson statement - written on 23rd September 1944:
I was leading a section of 4 ships behind a flight of 3 ships led by Major Roberts, over the Munich area at 31.000 ft. F/O. Willette called that he thought he had to bale out. I immediately called him to turn about, change channels on radio and that we would return to base. I then asked what was his trouble. He replied that his oil pressure was very low. A few seconds later he called that he was at 21,000 ft looking for a good spot to bale out. This all happened in approx 3 minutes. After the turnabout I never saw F/O. Willett again. Lt. Saunders flying number 4 position, his wingman, stated that he saw him go into the clouds just North of Lake Chiem. I had no further radio contact and I resumed he bailed out in this area at about 12.33 hrs.
At some later point his body was found as he is buried in France. He was posthumously promoted to 2nd Lt.
Flight Officer Leonard Willette of the 99th Fighter Squadron "Red Tails" who was killed in action over Germany September, 22 1944. Leonard Robert Willette was born in 1921 in Belleville, New Jersey to Lawrence Willette Sr, a veteran of the Great War and Leonora B Willette, a renowned playwright and public speaker within the African-American community. Leonard lived a very interesting life growing up and was an inspired artist and was inducted into the International Artist Society by age 17. He and his mother met with Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House in the 1930's; presenting a copy of one of Leonora's play illustrated by Leonard.
Leonard was accepted for studies at NYU and like many young men enlisted in the military soon after Pearl Harbor. Leonord was offered an appointment to West Point by New Jersey Senator William Warren Barbour which he refused preferring to get in the war. Leonard Robert Willette enlisted in the Air Corps and was trained at Tuskegee Army Airfield graduating as Flight Officer T-62308 on 8, February 1944 in class 44-B-SE. His ASN would later be promoted posthumously to O-1692873.
Willette's first assignment would be flying P-51 Mustangs out of Ramitelli Airfield in Foggia, Italy with the 99th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group - “The Red Tails.”
F/O. Leonard R. Willette and uniform regalia (courtesy Steve Beaver and Michel Beckers via the ALM Inc)
8 Months later his mother Leonora was invited to the White House by Eleanor Roosevelt to express sympathy for the loss of her son. Leonard was Killed In Action over Germany while his squadron the 99th "Red Tails" was escorting B-17 Bombers to Munich. He could not bail out and was found dead on the ground by the German Authorities. He gave the ultimate sacrifice for his Comrades and for his Country. Shown in photo above are the remaining items which form part of his enduring legacy! He is one of the honoured 66 Tuskegee Airmen who were killed in Action in WWII.
F/O. Leonard R Willette. American Cemetery Lorraine, France. Plot J. Row 18. Grave 17. Son of Newark Police Lt. and Mrs Lawrence Willette of Stephens Street, Belleville, New Jersey, USA.
Researched by Michel Beckers, January 2015 for Aircrew Remembered. With many thanks to Dylan M. Almendral VP and curator of collections and research of the American Legacy Museum Inc for the use of photographs