2/LT Walter S. Gladding (1915- 1945), a Tuskegee Airman, was born in Plainfield, CT in 1915, the son of Walter and
Elsie Gladding of 17 Olney Street, Providence. He attended local public schools, and later played football and ran
track at Hope High School. He was an only child.
He went on to Rhode Island State College, graduating in 1939 with a degree in Physical Education. Despite his slight
stature (5-10, 124 lbs according to his enlistment papers) Gladding threw the javelin for the outdoor track team, which was undefeated his senior year. Gladding took firsts in several intercollegiate meets, and the team also won the New England Intercollegiate championship. Walter also played intramural basketball, baseball and table tennis. He had an interest in drama, and was active in the RI State College Players. He played the role of the Prince of Morocco in the Merchant of Venice. He was also a member of Alpha Pi Alpha fraternity.
Gladding pursued advanced courses in social work at Tuskegee Institute, then went to Cincinnati to complete the field work neccessary for his masters degree. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Fort Thomas in Newport, KY in September, 1942. Gladding was an aviation cadet in Class 43-H, along with fellow Rhode Islanders William Hill and Charles Adams. Only Hill survived the rigorous training to become a fighter pilot, however. Gladding pursued another course to earn his wings [navigator, engineer or bombardier?], and was commissioned in December 1944. According to 1945 newspaper accounts, he came back to Tuskegee once again as an instructor, and was stationed there at the time of his death.
In one of the tragic and random incidents of the war, LT Gladding was shot and killed while he was on leave in
Lynchburg, VA on June 5, 1945. He was on his way home to Providence with his wife, Virginia Coles Gladding, to
attend a friend’s wedding. The couple had stopped to spend part of his 18 day leave at the home of his wife’s parents in Lynchburg. Gladding went alone that morning to Happy Land Lake, an amusement park and small resort a few miles outside the city.
According to witnesses, he got into an argument, then a fight with 44-year-old Cassell Beverly, who was also black.
Beverly pulled out a .45 caliber revolver and shot Gladding in the abdomen. Acccording to contemporary news
reports, Gladding died at Lynchburg General Hospital 40 minutes after being shot. Twelve witnesses confirmed Gladding was unarmed at the time of the shooting.
After evading capture for 72 hours, Beverly turned himself into the police. He was released under $5000 bond. Searches through the Lynchburg newspapers revealed no further information about the fate of Gladding’s assailant.
A military escort brought Walter’s body home to Providence, accompanied also by his wife. The funeral was held June 11, 1945 from the Church of the Savior on North Main Street. His body is buried in Spring Vale Cemetery in East Providence. Every Veterans Day, the members of the Lts. Armstrong-Gladding American Legion Post
conduct a memorial service at his grave.
More in 2009:
More in Minorities in Aviation:
- 2/LT William P. Armstrong
William P. Armstrong (1924- 1945) was a Tuskegee Airman/Fighter Pilot, shot down in action on April 1, 1945.
- Paul Broadnax
Paul Broadnax, the child of two well-known and influential Boston-area classical musicians, played with the Tuskegee Airmen military band and dance band.
- 2/LT Walter S. Gladding