Bernard Shaw Proctor; Tuskegee Airman

Bernard S. Proctor
Bernard S. Proctor
Posted: October 06, 2013

Bernard Shaw Proctor, 92, of West Chester, a decorated member of the Tuskegee Airmen, died Monday, Sept. 30, at Pottstown Memorial Medical Center.

Dr. Proctor, a native of Darby Borough, was selected as a young man to go to Tuskegee (Ala.) Institute. He became an officer in the Original 99th Fighter Squadron, Tuskegee Airmen, and fought for almost two years in North Africa, Italy, and France during World War II.

For his service, Dr. Proctor received numerous military awards, including 12 battle stars, three distinguished unit citations, and the European-African-Middle Eastern ribbon.

He was a member of Greater Philadelphia Chapter, Tuskegee Airmen Inc. and participated in the National Visionary Leadership Project, which records history from the mouths of those who made it.

In an interview in 2003, Dr. Proctor told how he encountered racial discrimination as a youngster on the playground at an elementary school in Darby.

When a white student fell at recess, the teaching attendant would comfort the child. When Dr. Proctor, who was of West Indian and African American ancestry, fell, no one reacted.

"I learned from that experience that it's better not to fall and expect people to brush you off," he said.

Later, as mess hall officer and adjutant for the 99th Fighter Squadron and 332d Fighter Group, he was singled out for grueling inspections of the dining hall. Any dirt particle resulted in a half-hour lecture for Dr. Proctor.

After proving to his superior, Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., an African American, that the facility was the cleanest in the unit, the lectures stopped. "The inspector changed his attitude," Dr. Proctor told the interviewer.

Dr. Proctor also said he encountered a belief in the military that a black man could not pilot a plane, let alone fly it in combat.

The performance of the airmen in 1943, he said in the oral history, proved that "the world could never again say that a black man couldn't shoot down enemy airplanes."

Dr. Proctor was honorably discharged from the Air Force reserve in 1958 with the rank of major. He went to Ohio State University on the GI Bill and earned a bachelor's degree, a master's degree in industrial arts education, and a doctorate in philosophy.

He taught industrial arts at Hampton Institute and Florida A&M University, and served as dean of industrial arts and technology at Central State University in Ohio before joining the staff at Cheyney University.

He was vice president of academic affairs at Cheyney for 12 years. He retired in 1991.

In retirement, Dr. Proctor became active with the Philadelphia Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen.

In 2007, he, along with the remaining Tuskegee Airmen, received the Medal of Honor for service during World War II.

In person, Dr. Proctor was open and warm.

"He would treat his students like family. He just was the kindest person," said Donald Mixon, whom Dr. Proctor mentored and who followed Dr. Proctor onto Cheyney's faculty.

Dr. Proctor was married to Phyllis E. Proctor. She died in 1998.

Surviving are a son, Karl; two granddaughters; and a sister.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, Oct. 7, at the Church of the Holy Trinity, 212 S. High St., West Chester. A viewing starts at 10:30 a.m. Plans for burial were pending.


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