Alfred L. Woolridge, 79, officer with Tuskegee unit, scientist

March 15, 1998|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Alfred L. Woolridge, a former aircraft engineering officer with the all-black Tuskegee Airmen during World War II and later a scientist at the Edgewood Arsenal in Harford County, died Tuesdayof lung failure at University of Maryland Medical Center.

Mr. Woolridge, 79, lived in Ashburton, in West Baltimore, for many years and was an inspector for the city's liquor board after his retirement from Edgewood Arsenal in 1974.

A native of Blackstone, Va., he enlisted in the Army in 1942 and studied chemical engineering at Purdue University. Having always loved airplanes and flying, Mr. Woolridge joined the Army Air Forces the next year and was sent to Yale University to study aircraft engineering.

Mr. Woolridge was commissioned in 1943 as a first lieutenant and was assigned to the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, where he joined the Tuskegee Airmen.

"He believed in himself and the challenge of being in the Army when there was so much happening racially around him," said his wife, the former Janet Clash, whom he married in 1955.

William Broadwater, who was also a Tuskegee Airman and is president of the East Coast chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, said Mr. Woolridge's duties were to ensure that the planes were physically and mechanically sound for missions.

"He was in charge of a segment of the airplanes and to be sure that they were in tip-top shape," Mr. Broadwater said. "He had to make sure the aircraft was ready to go out the next morning."

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first all-black U.S. fighter squadron of World War II. The group had 962 pilots -- and 10 ground support personnel for each pilot -- who flew more than 1,578 missions in the European Theater.

Sixty-six pilots of the squadron were killed in action, and 32 were taken prisoner. Mr. Woolridge and other Tuskegee Airmen were highly decorated for actions that included shooting down or damaging 409 enemy planes and never losing a bomber they were escorting across hostile territory.

Mrs. Woolridge, who dated Mr. Woolridge before his military service, said he experienced more prejudice in the Tuskegee community surrounding the base than on the Tuskegee military base.

"But he never thought about quitting. He endured all of it quietly," Mrs. Woolridge said. "He was a quiet person, and he kept a lot of hurt locked up inside of him."

Mr. Woolridge moved with his family to Baltimore when he was age 2 and graduated from Douglass High School in 1935. He earned a bachelor's degree from Morgan State College in 1939 and a master's degree in chemistry and mathematics from the University of Iowa in 1941.

Mr. Woolridge was discharged from the military in 1946 and from 1948 to 1974 was an analytical chemist at the arsenal in Harford County.

He was an active member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity for more than 60 years and belonged to the American Bridge Association. He was a Master bridge player.

He also was a member for many years of Grace Presbyterian Church, where he was an elder, a trustee, treasurer and choir member.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Grace Presbyterian, 2604 Banister Road.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Stefanie Lewis of West Bloomfield, Mich., and Amy Sallard of Dallas; a sister, Grace Burkett of Albuquerque, N.M.; and four grandchildren.

Donations may be made to the Morgan State University Foundation for Chemistry Department Scholarships, 1700 E. Cold Spring Lane, Baltimore 21251.

Pub Date: 3/15/98

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