John J. Suggs, Tuskegee Airman, dies at 98

November 19, 2013
John J. Suggs
Air Force officer

John J. Suggs, a Tuskegee Airman and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who as an Army Air Forces pilot flew 70 combat missions during World War II, died Oct. 10 at the Knollwood military retirement residence in Washington. He was 98.

The cause was dementia, said his son, Robert Suggs.

Col. Suggs, who was also a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, retired from the Air Force in 1968. He was a licensed civilian pilot and a junior aviation instructor before entering the military during World War II. He served in the Army Air Forces all-black unit known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

He became a fighter aircraft pilot in Europe, escorting Allied bombers on combat missions over enemy-held territory. He participated in operations over the Anzio beachhead and Monte Cassino in Italy. He flew bomber escort missions over France during the Normandy invasion.

During the Korean War, Col. Suggs flew logistical support missions to Korea from bases in Japan. From 1952 to 1957, he was on the faculty of Howard University, where he directed training and education in the Reserve Officers Training Program. In 1966 and 1967, he was commander of a service squadron at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Vietnam.

In his final active-duty assignment, he was chief of alert management for a Strategic Air Command bomb wing at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts.

His military decorations included seven awards of the Air Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal.

John Jacob Suggs was born in Slaughters, Ky., and raised in Terre Haute, Ind. He graduated in 1939 from what is now Indiana State University.

From 1969 to 1978, he was associate director of student life at the University of Maryland.

Col. Suggs was a founder of the nonprofit organization Tuskegee Airmen Inc. and the first president of the East Coast chapter and the national chapter.

He was the founding president of Tiber Island Cooperative Homes in Southwest Washington.

His wife, Alice Stanton Suggs, whom he married in 1943, died in 2007. Survivors include two sons, retired Air Force Lt. Col. John S. Suggs of Bellevue, Wash., and Robert E. Suggs of Columbia, Md.; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

— Bart Barnes

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