The service of Captain Andrew Maples, Jr., a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen and Orange County native, will soon be immortalized with a new historical marker in the Town of Orange, set near the location of the Maples family home site.
Orange County, Virginia, in many ways represents the idea of small town America. A place where one can get away from the noise of the larger cities, relax, and enjoy the beautiful landscape. However, this has not always been the case. During World War II, there were seven factories in and around the Town of Orange running at capacity, producing everything from socks for millions of marching feet, to parachutes that saved airmen and dropped in soldiers, and fuses for artillery shells. Young men and women donned uniforms and went off to serve. Area farms were producing vitally-needed food and fiber, and there was unending rail traffic through the county and its towns, at times up to one train every ten minutes. This busy town 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 tell his parents he had 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, he graduated from the Advanced Flying School at the Tuskegee Army Air Field on January 14, 1943, receiving his commission 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 of the Army Air Forces, 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. 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, this loss was attributed to a mechanical problem with Maples’ aircraft. As his aircraft failed, he radioed the other members of his squadron and requested 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 make his own way back to base, but this hope faded as time progressed. While officially missing in action, he was promoted to captain and awarded the Air Medal. The Air Medal is awarded to airmen and civilian personnel for 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 American 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, we are pleased to report that his service will soon be immortalized in his hometown of Orange, Virginia, through the installation of a new historical marker at the intersection of W. Church St. and S. Madison Rd., near the grounds of the historic Maples family home site. It will join more than thirty markers currently located in Orange County, which jointly are a testament to the historic significance of this area. The official unveiling of the new marker is scheduled to take place Saturday, June 24, at 12pm. The public is invited to attend this unveiling to help honor the memory of Capt. Maples. We hope this new marker, and the example of Capt. Maples, will serve as an inspiration to both our residents and visitors alike.
*Captain Andrew Maples, Jr., 2nd from left.
Sources (Some Titles are Linked to External Sites):
“Air Medal.” Air Force Personnel Center. United States Air Force, 4 Aug. 2010. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.
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.
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.
Walker, Frank S. Echoes of Orange. Orange, VA: Orange County Historical Society, 2013. Print.
For more information about the storied service of the Tuskegee Airmen, we recommend visiting: www.tuskegeeairmen.org.