Narratives are personal stories that help enrich the reader’s understanding of a time period, person, place, or event. These are first-person views of history taken from personal recollections, memoirs, diaries, and oral histories.


Information included in this section is not fact checked by the Encyclopedia staff. The author of the Narrative is entirely responsible for its content.


Another American Hero from Arkansas:
Shelby Westbrook was born in Marked Tree. When his parents passed away, he moved in with his brother in Toledo, Ohio. In March 1943, shortly after he graduated from high school, Westbrook enrolled in aviation cadet training at Tuskegee Army Air Field. (He'd never been in an airplane, but he knew he didn't want to be in the infantry.)
As a combat pilot, he flew 60 missions over 12 countries in Europe. On his 31st mission, his P-51 Mustang developed engine trouble, forcing Westbrook and his wingman to crash-land in Yugoslavia. After he was rescued by Tito’s partisans, Westbrook spent a month evading capture and eventually made his way to the coast where he was picked up by the British and returned to his unit. Soon after, Lt. Westbrook was back on duty.
For his service in Europe, Westbrook earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 5 Clusters, the Presidential Unit Citation, the 15th Air Force Certificate of Valor, and 5 Battle Stars, with a confirmed air-to-air victory over a German Me-109 fighter in October 1944. Promoted to 1st Lt., he served in the 332nd Fighter Group from July 1944 to May 1945. Total service: 4 years active, 6 years reserve.
Westbrook returned to the United States in June 1945. His plan was to attend an engineering school, but he was turned down; the director wouldn't accept black students. Instead, he came to Chicago and earned a Bachelor of Science in electronics from the American Television Institute of Technology.
Now retired, he is active in his Tuskegee chapter and has co-authored two books regarding the Tuskegee Airmen, including one named Tuskegee Airmen 1941–1945. As of April 2014, Mr. Westbrook is still alive and well in Chicago.


Eric Leonard
Dumfries, VA


Although this narrative pays homage to the influence and the pride that we as black Americans take from the Tuskegee Airmen, my first-hand experiences consist of meeting the Airmen of St. Louis, MO (especially knowing that my former teacher and neighbor, the late Dr. Victor Reef Sr., served as an instructor of the Airmen) and in joining another neighbor (coincidentally, a close cousin of Airman Roy LaGrone, named L. C. LaGrone) in attending their 2006 Pine Bluff, AR, family reunion.
We “agreed to be cousins” because L. C.'s family roots were in Amory, MS, and mine are 70 [?] miles away in Nettleton, MS. My Johnson family roots [maternal grandmother Bettie and lost brother, Eddie?, were from Pine Bluff and Little Rock also]. I mention these because LaGrones, Leggroans, and similarly named folk identify with the contributions of Roy LaGrone, specifically.
I give thanks to your organization as well as thanks to the books of Cooper and all historians of the Tuskegee Airmen. In my endeavor to expand the written history of the black LaGrones—from slavery, to sharecroppers, to Mormon travelers, to Utah/Idaho homesteaders, to active military men, to northern city migrants, to educators, to business folk and more—the role of artist Roy LaGrone as a Tuskegee Airman [credited with painting the first nickname insignia on a fighter ace's plane] will continue to be exemplary of the contributions that the LaGrone family, as well as other black families, have made to the positive history of the U.S.A.


John E. LaGrone
St. Louis, MO