Roy Martis Chappell, 1921-2002

Historical Marker #2201 in Williamsburg remembers Roy Martis Chappell, who was one of the famous Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.

Roy Martis Chappell was born on September 27, 1927, in Williamsburg, Kentucky. When he was a young boy, his family moved to Monroe, Michigan, where he graduated from high school. In 1940, he entered Kentucky State University and majored in chemistry. During Chappell’s junior year at Kentucky State, he was drafted into the armed forces to participate in World War II. He was tested as a pilot and was forwarded to Tuskegee, Alabama, for training, and eventually went on to graduate from navigation school in Texas as a second lieutenant.

Chappell was assigned to the 477th Bombardier Group that was stationed first at Godman Field at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and then Freeman Field, near Seymour, Indiana. While at Freeman Field, Chappell was one of a group of African American officers that attempted to integrate a white officers’ club. When the black officers were asked to leave, they refused and were arrested. Immediately an order was drafted explaining that the club was segregated. Then, when the African American officers were asked to read and sign it, 101 of the black officers refused and were placed under arrest and confined to their barracks. Those officers were returned to Godman Field at Fort Knox to await trial. However, after pressure from several different interest groups, the War Department dropped the charges within a few days on the majority of the men.

The 477th was moved back to Godman Field in entirety, and then in 1946, to Lockbourne Field in Ohio, having not seen combat. The unit was completely demobilized in 1947. The following year, President Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which integrated the United States armed forces. The 477th could proudly say they had played a role in the eventual desegregation of the US military.

After his service, Chappell completed his college education and worked as a teacher and guidance counselor in the Chicago, Illinois, public schools until his retirement in 1985. During retirement Chappell worked to help youth learn about aviation skills through initiatives such as the Young Eagles and Chicago Youth in Aviation projects. Chappell died on September 22, 2002, and was buried in Chicago.