Valentine’s day marks 1st for African American Meteorologist

  • Published
  • By Jerry White
  • 99th Air Base Wing Historian
February 14 holds significance for more than just Valentine's Day--70 years ago, on Feb. 14, 1942, the first African-American meteorologist in the armed services graduated from a specialized training course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Wallace Patillo Reed was found through an extensive search by MIT officials at the request of the Army Air Forces. In 1940, the Army had only 62 qualified weather forecasters. With WWII expansion already underway, it was initially estimated that as many as 10,000 weather officers were needed just for the AAF; by war's end, more than 6,000 had been trained.

Cadet programs were set up initially at MIT, New York University and the California Institute of Technology, with additional courses later at the University of Chicago, the University of California Los Angeles and an AAF program at Grand Rapids, MI. Potential weather officers needed engineering, math, physics or chemistry degrees, later lowered to at least two years of coursework. Reed entered MIT's second class in 1941, followed by 14 other African-American aviation cadets and one enlisted forecaster before the program closed in 1944.

Upon graduation, Reed was commissioned into the Army Air Corps, three weeks before the first class of pilots graduated from pilot training at Tuskegee Army Air Field, Ala. After a three-week orientation at Mitchel Field, New York, Lt. Reed was assigned as the Tuskegee AAF base weather officer.

Reed served his entire tour in charge of the base weather station there and helped train weather officers who deployed overseas. After the war, he moved to the Philippines where he worked for Pan American Airways and the Weather Bureau. Years later he returned to the United States, passing away in 1999.

In addition to being the first African-American meteorologist in the military, Capt. Reed is believed to have been the Weather Bureau's first African-American meteorologist.