This tour features three stories of Tuskegee Airmen buried at Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, plus four other members of the U.S. Army Air Forces. Many airmen lost their lives in dangerous strategic and tactical missions, as technology at the time could not compensate for difficulties such as darkness or bad weather.
Cornelius G. Rogers
301st Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group
Plot C, Row 7, Grave 34
Lt. Cornelius G. Rogers graduated from flight training on July 28, 1943 at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. He was deployed to Italy with the 301st Fighter Squadron in December and flew his first combat mission on February 5, 1944.
On June 9, 1944 Lt. Rogers encountered mechanical trouble while on a bomber escort mission. Unable to keep up with the original course, he attached himself to another flight. Here, the group encountered enemy aircraft over the Alps. On their return to base, Lt. Rogers called the group leader stating that he had engine trouble. He thought he could make it back to base, but he never did. Lt. Rogers disappeared over Italy—no one knew his exact position at the time. He was awarded the Purple Heart.
Awards: Purple Heart
Cornelius G. Rogers is buried in Sicily-Rome American Cemetery Plot C, Row 7, Grave 34.
Alwayne M. Dunlap
99th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group
District of Columbia
Plot D, Row 14, Grave 7
Lieutenant Alwayne M. Dunlap graduated from flight training on March 25, 1943 at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. He was deployed to North Africa with the 99th Fighter Squadron that April, where he engaged in his first combat mission.
Dunlap gave an interview to The Afro-American, a Baltimore newspaper, while on base. He was featured in a newspaper article just a few days before his death. Lt. Dunlap told the reporter that his first mission felt just like the practice dives “except for the burst of flak” all around his plane. “Of course I was nervous, but more because I was cognizant of it being my first mission and my desire to make good than of what I expected to face in the way of flak.”
The mission that day was to strafe enemy positions. Lt. Dunlap was subject to explosions above and below him. He could see “the puffs of bluish-white smoke” above and behind him. Once the signal for the bomb run was given, Lt. Dunlap gave a burst of fire and dropped his bomb. “Now that the first mission is over, I shall have no fear,” he told the reporter that day.
Lieutenant Alwayne M. Dunlap died on February 21, 1944. He overshot a landing strip on the Anzio, Italy beachhead and crashed.
Awards: Purple Heart
Alwayne M. Dunlap is buried in Sicily-Rome American Cemetery Plot D, Row 14, Grave 7.
William T. Kaspervik
527th Fighter Squadron, 86th Fighter Group
Plot F, Row 6, Grave 13
Lt. William T. Kaspervik was a part of the 86th Fighter Group until his death on January 14, 1944. From March through May of 1943 the 86th Fighter Group moved to North Africa to train with and eventually become attached to the Twelfth Air Force. They engaged in ground support, moving through bases in Sicily, Italy, Corsica, France and Germany. They used A-36, P-40, and P-47 aircraft to bomb trains, ammunition dumps, shipping, bridges, rail lines, and other targets that would disrupt the Nazi war machine.
Lt. Kaspervik died on a bombing mission over central Italy on January 14, 1944. On the day of his death, his mother received a letter from William telling her not to worry. He was the third of three brothers who lost their lives during the Allied advance into Italy. He is buried at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery with his brother, Preston.
Awards: Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart
William T. Kaspervik is buried in Sicily-Rome American Cemetery Plot F, Row 6, Grave 13.
Edward P. Ervin
781st Bomber Squadron, 465th Bomber Group, Heavy
Plot J, Row 1, Grave 10
Sgt. Edward P. Ervin was a part of the 2641st Special Group, responsible for the insertion and supply of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) agents behind enemy lines in Italy and the Balkans. The group operated specially modified B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators, painted all black, with limited identification markings.
On March 7, 1945, Sergeant Ervin’s aircraft was returning from a night mission when it crashed into the sea. The crash was caused by miscommunication with the Control Tower, which had instructed the pilot to land incorrectly, and then fired a red flare warning him not to land. It was then that the plane struck the water about 300 yards from the runway. At the time of his death, Sgt. Ervin was 27 years old and married.
Awards: Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster
Edward P. Ervin is buried in Sicily-Rome American Cemetery Plot J, Row 1, Grave 10.
100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group
Plot J, Row 9, Grave 68
Lt. Alphonso Simmons was deployed to Italy with the 100th Fighter Squadron in December 1943, two months after his graduation from flight school. His squadron flew its first combat mission on February 5, 1944.
On August 9, 1944, Simmons was forced to parachute from his damaged P-51 Mustang. He survived the fall, landing near Krupa, Yugoslavia. Upon landing, he joined a band of the Yugoslav Partisans, a Communist resistance group. Miraculously, Lt. Simmons returned to the 100th Fighter Squadron and continued flying.
On March 2, 1945 Simmons and seven other pilots were instructed to strafe railroads in Austria. Upon arrival, the group saw two airplanes parked on the field, and decided to pursue the destruction of the enemy aircraft. Lt. Simmons died when his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire. He was awarded an Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters and a Purple Heart.
Awards: Air Medal with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart
Alphonso Simmons is buried in Sicily-Rome American Cemetery Plot J, Row 9, Grave 68.
Charles L. Keerans Jr.
Headquarters, 82nd Airborne Division
Brig. Gen. Charles L. Keerans Jr. was born January 14, 1899 in Charlotte, North Carolina. He attended the North Carolina College of Engineering and Virginia Military Institute before going on to the U.S. Military Academy.
Keerans was first commissioned in the infantry in 1920. He spent 23 years in the armed forces and was the assistant division commander of the 82nd Airborne Division at the time of his death.
On July 11, 1943, American anti-aircraft gunners mistook American troop carrier transports for enemy planes. Twenty-three of 144 aircraft failed to return to base; another 37 planes were damaged. Keerans was one of the casualties of this tragic incident.
Awards: Purple Heart
Charles L. Keerans Jr. is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at Sicily-Rome American Cemetery.
Tracy Howard Jackson
Headquarters Squadron, 52nd Troop Carrier Wing
Maj. Tracy Jackson was a graduate of Clemson University in 1934, where he studied mechanical engineering. He entered the U.S. Army Air Forces in July 1941 and went overseas in May 1943.
Jackson was aboard the same aircraft as Brig. Gen. Charles L. Keerans when it was shelled, causing it to make a belly landing, 400 miles from the shore. This was the night of one of the worst “friendly fire” shoot-downs in World War II, an event that would urge better aircraft identification, and encourage the policy of painting stripes on all invading aircraft for the Normandy invasion one year later.
Jackson was an observer onboard a C-47 from the 316th Troop Carrier Group. It was shot down over the Faerello airstrip on 11 July 1943. Troopers from the 376th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion jumped from the aircraft, but others were not so lucky. In total, 23 aircraft were downed by friendly fire that night.
Tracy Howard Jackson is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at Sicily-Rome American Cemetery.