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Finding Indiana: Hoosier Charles B. Hall answered the call during WWII, shot down German aircraft

(WISH) — The year is 1941 and young men from all over the country are being called to serve in World War II. It’s a chance to show their devotion and protect the home of the brave, one of those men, Charles B. Hall, also known as Buster, is up for the challenge.

“He was born in Brazil, Indiana Aug. 25, 1920. He had a normal childhood. Brazil, Indiana is a community now of 14,000 people – it may have grown a little bit. They had a small African-American community there, but it was well-knitted together. It appears the schools were integrated. He had a relatively good childhood and student body experience there. He was a football player; he was an athlete. He went to Eastern Illinois on a football scholarship,” says his son, Charles T. Hall.

But in college, Buster found another calling on his life.

“The Tuskegee program – “experiment” they called it then, they appealed first to college graduates and at the time, there was not enough college graduates to fill the program. So then they started to appeal to college students who were undergrads or students working on their four-year degree. Evidently, dad heard the call and he must’ve had an inkling or desire to want to fly and enlisted into the program at Tuskegee,” explains Hall

As tensions grew between the U.S. and Germany, Buster saw this as a chance to be a difference maker.

“As the Tuskegee experiment was concerned, it was an opportunity for young black men to experience being an officer. Most opportunity was in the noncommission ranks of the military. And with the Army Air Corps, this opportunity to become cadets and get in an officer program, as well as maybe see combat and other skills that have to deal with other aviation, yes, that was an opportunity,” Hall said.

In 1942, he was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group’s 99th Fighter Squadron. A year later, Hall and his squadron escorted bombers on an airfield raid in Sicily, Italy, eventually becoming the first to shoot down a German enemy aircraft over North Africa.

“Charlie had that stamina and that grit to go up against those who were a little larger than he on the football field and he carried that evidently into his training for aviation and certainly into the realm of combat concerning flying and dealing with the enemy in the air,” Hall said.

With a victory under his belt and back at home, Buster became the first black fighter pilot to earn the Distinguished Flying Cross and was congratulated by Supreme Allied Commander and General Dwight Eisenhower.

“As his son, I think it’s remarkable. To grow up knowing that your father received a medal called the Distinguished Flying Cross, that was a prideful thing. It’s funny how that is. In my childhood, I did not talk very much about the accomplishments of my dad,” Hall said. “Most of the children never knew there were black pilots. The few children that came to my house, they had an opportunity to see a photo or two of my dad standing beside his training plane. That accomplishment to me was grand but what I came to understand it was just the first of many victories that black pilots would one day have. He just happened to be the first.”