One of the last things LaVerne Albert Shelton wanted to do was get involved in World War II. The closest thing to it was going to college.
Shelton didn’t have to go to college.
He was, however, among the thousands of young men drafted into the service. And although he was bitter about the war and refused to turn in his draft notice paperwork, it did give him the opportunity to do something he loved — work with planes.
It also gave him the opportunity to be part of history.
Shelton was crew chief for the Tuskegee Airmen.
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Albert LaVerne Shelton — he changed the order when he got older — was the seventh of 10 children born to Albert and Elizabeth Shelton on Dec. 6, 1920, in Brookport.
Shelton attended Lincoln School — Brookport’s segregated grammar and high school. It was also where his elder brother Jewel, the second child in the Shelton brood, was a teacher.
Each time Shelton was promoted to the next grade — from third through eighth — Jewel’s next assignment just happened to be that grade.
Their father was a laborer who worked the railroads. He had two plots of land — one they lived on and the other they farmed to provide food for the family. The children did much of the farm work.
The Sheltons were able to send their first six children to college. The money ran out when it was Shelton’s turn, which was fine with him.
Shelton graduated from Lincoln High School in 1939. Through the National Youth Administration (NYA), he enrolled into the Chicago Resident Training School where he gained experience in aircraft mechanics. NYA was a New Deal agency from 1935 to 1943 that focused on providing work and education for 16- to 25-year-olds.
In 1941, a 21-year-old Shelton left the school to work as an aircraft mechanic at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Around the same time, his mother, not wanting him to get in trouble with the government, turned in his draft papers. He was classified 1-A in the draft.
Shelton had 24 hours to get his business in order. He was in the Army now. But he wanted no part of it. He even tried to fail his pistol range qualifications by hitting the wrong target on purpose.
He had a brief stop for basic training at Jefferson Barracks Military Complex in Missouri before being sent on to Selfridge Army Air Field in Michigan to join the 332nd Fighter Group.
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