Wendell O. Pruitt (1920-1945)
Wendell O. Pruitt was a pioneering African American military pilot and Tuskegee Airman from St. Louis. Pruitt grew up in St. Louis and attended Sumner High School in The Ville. He then attended college at Lincoln University in Missouri and became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, a historically Black fraternity. After graduation, Pruitt enlisted in the Army Air Corp Cadet Flying Program in Tuskegee, Alabama. He graduated and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in December of 1942.
Pruitt was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group and was extremely successful. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his direct hits on an enemy destroyer in combat. He also worked alongside Lee Archer to form the “Gruesome Twosome”, the most successful pair of Tuskegee pilots in terms of air victories. Pruitt flew 70 combat missions, is credited with three enemy kills, and reached the rank of captain in his military career. Unfortunately, Pruitt was killed during a training exercise in 1945 at the Tuskegee Air Base. After his death, the Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project was created in St. Louis, as well as a St. Louis elementary school and a military school in his name. St. Louis celebrates Wendell O. Pruitt day on December 12, 1944 for his success.