Keesler Heritage: Col Roberts leaves a legacy

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stephan Coleman
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Keesler is the birth place for much of the Air Force's heritage and military heroism, its buildings and streets reflecting a legacy of valor that instills integrity, service, and excellence.

The Roberts Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Facility is dedicated to that legacy with the name of Col. (Ret.) Lawrence E. Roberts, who flew with the famous Tuskegee Airmen and has deep ties to the base and community.

"Roberts began his career at Keesler, entering the Army Air Corps in 1943 as a pre-aviation cadet," said Kenneth Dodd, base historian. "He then returned here at the end of career as commander of the maintenance and supply group."

His name hangs high on the 403rd Wing building, as a constant memorial.
"The facility is a true testament to my father's spirit," said Lawrence Roberts II at the facility's dedication in 2009.

Roberts work in the Air Force and at Keesler led to the selection of his name for the new maintenance facility. The Roberts facility holds offices and support for all base C-130 upkeep, said Doris Stotler, 403rd commander secretary.

"He was a fantastic leader and contributor to the Keesler community," said retired Chief Master Sgt. Curtis Jennings with the Mississippi Tuskegee Airmen chapter, which also shares the Roberts name. "Because of the time he served, when he served, dedicating the maintenance facility to him was an over-due honor."

Roberts was assigned to the Tuskegee Airmen training program, the popular name for the African-American pilots who fought in World War II, the year after arriving at Keesler. He flew Piper Cubs, North American B-25 Mitchell bombers, Douglas C-54 Skymaster transports and North American F-86 Sabre and fighter jets.

He was also an instructor in Tuskegee University's Air Force ROTC program from 1958 to 1960. He served in the Vietnam War earned a total of 18 service medals and awards.

The historic contributions of Roberts and Tuskegee Airmen are ingrained in Keesler forever. Under a racially-segregated American military, these men trained on the very ground we train on today.

"A good number of the Tuskegee Airmen were trained at Keesler," said Dodd. "Thousands of African-American soldiers were stationed at Keesler Field in the 1940s for pre-aviation, radio operations and aviation mechanics training."

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the U.S. armed forces, and got their name from Tuskegee, Ala., where their pilot training was conducted, Dodd added.

Roberts' career persisted long after his training and various assignments, eventually bringing him back to Keesler.

In 1975, Roberts retired after 32 years of service lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for the next 29 years. He died in 2004 in Biloxi, at the age of 81 and was buried at Biloxi National Cemetery.