Honoring the Memory of Captain Andrew Maples, Jr., Orange County’s Tuskegee Airman
Article adopted from February 2022 Orange County newsletter INSIGHT.” | Jayson Woods, Communications Specialist for County of Orange, Virginia
In many ways, Orange County, Virginia represents the idea of small-town America. It’s a place where one can get away from the noise of larger cities, relax, and enjoy the beautiful landscape. However, this has not al- ways been the case. During World War II, there were seven factories in and around the Town of Orange running at capacity, producing every- thing from socks for millions of marching feet, to parachutes that saved airmen and delivered soldiers to battle, and even artillery shell fuses meant to directly combat the Axis powers. Young men and women donned uniforms and went off to serve. Area farms were producing vitally needed food and fiber. Unending rail traffic rumbled through the county and its towns, at times up to one train every ten minutes. The busy town of Orange was home to a young man named Andrew Maples Jr., whose family’s ties to the area went back generations, and whose family home stood near the intersection of today’s W. Church St. and S. Madison Rd.
In a conversation with Maples’ sister, Doris Walker, she described him as a well-mannered, beloved young man who stood above the crowd due to his exceptional height and poise. Interested in flying since childhood, he enrolled in Hampton Institute’s Civilian Pilot Training Program. Upon completion of this program, Maples returned to Orange County in triumphant fashion, flying himself to the Gordonsville Airport to inform his parents he’d received his pilot’s license. Doubtless, Maples learned much while studying at Hampton, but one thing in particular would change the course of his life. He became aware of the Tuskegee Program. The military had selected Tuskegee Institute to train pilots because of its commitment to aeronautical training. Tuskegee had the facilities, engineering, technical instructors, as well as the climate for year-round flying. With his piloting experience as a foundation, Andrew Maples graduated from the Advanced Flying School at the Tuskegee Army Air Field on January 14, 1943, receiving his com- mission as a second lieutenant. Mrs. Walker recalled that their mother and father traveled the 700 miles from Orange, Virginia, to Tuskegee, Alabama, to personally pin his wings.
Maples was deployed with the 301st Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group, one of the groups who made up the famous Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the United States armed forces. Due to the prevailing Jim Crow laws of the time, units were racially segregated and the Tuskegee Airmen were forced to overcome prejudice and prove their abilities. Though they flew in other operations and with other aircraft, the Tuskegee Airmen are perhaps best known for flying P-51 Mustangs emblazoned with red tails while escorting allied bombers in the European theater. On June 26, 1944, 1st Lt. Maples took off from Ramitelli Air Field in Italy. Tragically, his P-47 Thunderbolt went down over the Adriatic Sea while he was leading a group of fighters on one of the 332nd’s bomber escort missions. In a letter from Maples’ friend 1st Lt. William J. Faulkner to Maples’ mother, reprinted in The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation, by Charles E. Francis, this loss was attributed to a mechanical problem with Maples’ aircraft. As his aircraft failed, he radioed the other members of his squadron to request a fix on his position which would aid rescue and recovery efforts. His last transmission relayed that he planned to bail out as soon as he had descended to a reasonable altitude. Unfortunately, no parachute would be sighted. Members of his squadron searched the area for signs of him or his plane. There was initially some hope that he would be found, rescued, or perhaps make his own way back to base, but this hope faded with time. While officially missing in action, he was promoted to Captain and awarded the Air Medal, which recognizes single acts of heroism or meritorious achievements while participating in aerial flight. The Army declared him dead in June of 1945 and he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. The Florence Ameri- can Cemetery in Impruneta, Italy, commemorates his service on the Tablets of the Missing. The unit’s legendary success, thanks to the exemplary performance and sacrifice of individuals like Captain Maples, contributed greatly to the allied victory and paved the way for future racial integration of units in the military.
Captain Maples was sadly never able to return home to share his experiences. However, his service has been immortalized in his hometown of Orange, Virginia, through the installation of a historical marker near the intersection of W. Church St. and S. Madison Rd., on the grounds of the historic Maples family home site. The marker was officially unveiled in June of 2017, accompanied by fanfare and a fitting flyover of period aircraft facilitated by the Capital Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. In 2021, his portrait was dedicated in the historic Orange County Courthouse. The example of Capt. Maples, aided by these memorials, should continue to serve as an inspiration for generations to come.
Commonwealth of Virginia. Department of Historic Resources. Seven New State Historical Highway Markers Approved. Virginia Department of Historic Resources, 29 Dec. 2016. Web. 20 Mar. 2017. <http://ww.dhr.virginia.gov/press_releases/12292016_press_release.html>.
Francis, Charles E., and Adolph Caso. The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation. Boston: Branden Pub., 1997. Print.
"Interview with Mrs. Doris Walker." Telephone interview. 24 Mar. 2017.
Maurer, David A. "Tuskegee Pilot Has Engine Trouble in Mediterranean." The Daily Progress [Charlottesville] 12 Feb. 2017, Lifestyles sec.: C1+. Print.
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United States of America. American Battle Monuments Commission. Andrew Maples Jr. American Battle Monuments Commission, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2017. <https://www.abmc.gov/node/530146#>.
Walker, Frank S. Echoes of Orange. Orange, VA: Orange County Historical Society, 2013. Print.