Class 44-G-SE on August 4, 1944, Flight Officer from Swarthmore, PA (T64641)
Lt. William Rice received a Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 for his service during World War II and was very proud to wear it
William E. Rice, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen pilots who fought overseas, died on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. He was 98. He was born on Dec. 4, 1923, in Media, Pennsylvania, and was the oldest child born to the late Phostell and Ethelene Wakefield Rice.
As a boy, Rice saw National Guard airplanes and Navy dirigibles flying over his home and dreamed of becoming a pilot. He fulfilled that dream by joining the Tuskegee Affectionately known by friends and family as “Woody,” he was educated in the Nether Providence School District in Delaware County. As a child, he won numerous certificates for perfect attendance and was a member of the 1943 graduating class of Nether Providence High School.
He enlisted in the Army Air Corps during his senior year. He completed basic training in Mississippi and was sent to the Tuskegee Institute for preflight training. Not having the two-year college requirement for admission to the program, he completed a special curriculum provided by the institute, qualifying him for flight training. After completing combat training, he was sent to Italy in 1945 as a member of the 332nd Fighter Group, flying 34 combat missions in a P-51 plane.
Lisa Lockley lived just two doors down from Rice growing up.
“He was a very humble man who loved to listen to jazz and make model helicopters in his spare time,” Lockley told The Tribune. “We are very proud of him and consider him our hometown hero.”
Lockley said many people in the town, including herself, did not at first know he was a Tuskegee Airman. Rice told The Tribune in a 2012 interview that when he came home, there was little to no recognition for what he and his crew did overseas.
“A lot of people didn’t know how much we contributed in that war,” he said then. “I’m humbled that we are getting a lot of recognition now. For many of us, it’s long overdue.”
In 2011, Rice attended his first reunion with the Tuskegee Red Tail Pilots. The reunion, held in Orlando, Florida, marked the 66th anniversary of the Berlin Mission. Because of the striking red paint used on the tail of their P-51 Mustang fighter planes, the Allies dubbed the airmen “Red Tails” or “Red Tail Angels.” The Tuskegee Airmen never flew a new aircraft.
“When the new models came in, the other air groups got the planes first,” he told The Tribune in 2012. “The ones that they were no longer using got sent to us, so all of our planes were second-hand planes, but we had good mechanics who kept them running.”
Rice collected literature and artifacts related to the Tuskegee Airmen and World War II. He also loved to garden and collect coins, was an enthusiastic scrap booker, and supported the Phillies and Eagles. His profile was included in “The Black List” by Timothy Greenfield Sanders and Elvis Mitchell, which profiles 25 prominent African Americans.
Rice received a Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 for his service during World War II. He was discharged from the Army in 1946 with the rank of first lieutenant and returned to Delaware County to work and raise a family with his wife, Araminta Alexander Rice. He worked briefly for the Pennsylvania Railroad and in 1952 began working at the Boeing Company’s Helicopter Division. He retired from Boeing in 1993 after 41 years.