Charles H. Toogood, a retired machinist and decorated World War II combat pilot who was one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, died Sunday of respiratory failure at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. He was 78.
Until he retired in 1987, the longtime Northeast Baltimore resident had been employed as a mailing machine mechanic for 26 years in the Arbutus plant of Harte-Hanks Direct Marketing Maryland Inc.
Born in Hanover, Anne Arundel County, and reared in Baltimore, Mr. Toogood graduated from Frederick Douglass Senior High School and attended then Morgan State College for two years before entering the Army Air Corps.
"We grew up on South Paca Street, and he always had an interest in aviation," a brother, Frank D. Dorsey, 68, of Wichita, Kan., said yesterday.
"He wanted to study aeronautical science, and when the war broke out, he enlisted in the Army," he said.
Selected to be an aviation cadet, Mr. Toogood was sent for pilot's training at Alabama's Tuskegee Institute.
At Tuskegee, the nation's first black military pilots were trained by the legendary Charles Alfred Anderson, considered the father of black aviation, who had taught himself to fly in the 1920s.
Taught to fly P-38s and P-51 Mustangs, Mr. Toogood was assigned to the all-black 332nd Fighter Group of the 15th Army Air Force and flew scouting and bomber escort missions out of Monte Corvino, Italy, in 1944 and 1945.
Known as the "Red Tails" because of the vividly painted red tails of their Mustangs, Mr. Toogood's unit compiled a remarkable wartime record of never losing a bomber to enemy planes on its 200 escort missions to targets over southern Germany, Austria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Hungary.
"The only thing I can say about discrimination was that they didn't always fly regular combat missions. They were also used as scouts and were sent to war zones to scout out enemy targets - to stir up the hornet's nest, in other words," said Mr. Dorsey. "Every time they flew out, no one expected them to return."
"He was real proud to have been a Tuskegee Airman and often talked of the camaraderie between the pilots," said his daughter, Daniece C. Dennis of Baltimore. "And because of racial tensions, they had to stick together."
On his 20th mission, his plane was hit by enemy groundfire.
"We were coming back from Czechoslovakia when we got hit by a strike at about 20,000 feet. I was hit by anti-aircraft fire, but I managed to get back to the base safely. I was wounded in my leg and arms," Mr. Toogood said in an interview with a company newspaper in 1986.
The incident left him with a permanent limp, and he carried bullet fragments in his leg for the rest of his life.
"When the interview was published, he found two war buddies working in the same plant. They were white pilots, and he had escorted them during the war. And think of it: They had worked minutes away from each other all those years and had never mentioned their wartime experiences," said Mr. Dorsey, a retired aircraft inspector for Boeing Aircraft in Wichita.
"I was always very proud of my brother, and I always let people know right off that he was a Tuskegee Airman," he said.
Mr. Toogood was extremely modest about his wartime accomplishments and seldom talked of them, relatives said.
He was discharged with the rank of lieutenant, and his eight decorations include the Air Medal with three clusters.
Mr. Toogood enjoyed building scale models of World War II aircraft and operated a part-time television and radio repair business. He was married in 1940 to Helen Jordan. She died in 1967.
Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. today at Vaughn Greene Funeral Home, 5151 Baltimore National Pike, Baltimore.
In addition to his daughter and brother, he is survived by three other brothers, Richard Dorsey of Weldon, N.C., Charles Dorsey of Annapolis and William Dorsey of Annapolis; four sisters, Irma Davis of Annapolis, Gloria Prince of Hollis, N.Y., Alice Champ of Portsmouth, Va., and Elizabeth Gunn of Martinsville, Va.; seven grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.