2/LT William E. Hill (1923- 1943) was a Tuskegee Airman and Fighter Pilot. Narragansett native Hill, described by the Providence Journal as the first black pilot from Rhode Island in the Army Air Forces, was killed November 22, 1943 during a training mission over Lake Huron.
Lieutenant Hill was serving with the 302nd Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group, undergoing the final advanced training required before their planned deployment into combat in January, 1944. According to a contemporary newspaper account, Hill was reported missing after he jumped from a disabled P-39Q Airacobra about three miles offshore. His body was never recovered. He was 20 years old when he died.
William Hill was born in Virginia on July 21, 1923. His parents were residents of Narragansett, and his father ran an auto repair shop called the Surf Garage. He went to Narragansett grammar school, and graduated with the class of 1941 from South Kingstown High School.
He worked at the Wakefield Branch Lumber Company and Fort Green before he entered the service in September 1942. According to his intake papers from Westover Field, MA, he was six feet tall and weighed 162 pounds.
According to his sister Gloria Hill Spears (who still lives in Narragansett), William had tried previously to get into the aviation cadet program but was turned down. He persisted, however, going so far as to write a personal letter to President Roosevelt. The persistence paid off; he was finally accepted into the flight program in December. 1942. He was sent to Tuskegee, and graduated with Class 43-H on August 30, 1943. Gloria attended his graduation.
Hill received his wings and commission, and was sent to Selfridge Field in Michigan for the next phase of his training. Oscoda was a satellite field to Selfridge. His demise was described in the official accident report narrative as follows:
“On the morning of 22 November 1943 at approximately 0900 Eastern War Time, 2nd Lt William Edward Hill of the 302nd Fighter Squadron, flying on a (5) ship aerial gunnery mission, was seen to parachute into Lake Huron after his plane caught fire three (3) to five (5) miles east of Harrisville, Mich., fourteen miles north of Oscoda, Mich. Lt. Hill was not seen to clear himself of his parachute before the plane struck the water and the parachute sank about one minute after landing.”
His body was never recovered.