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Tuskegee Airman LeRoy Criss Honored With Fifth Neighborhood Treasure

The fifth Neighborhood Treasure, honoring Tuskegee Airman LeRoy "Buster" Criss, was unveiled today at the corner of Maple and Ivy.

Here is a history of Criss, written by his wife, Helen, in 2000, to celebrate his 75th birthday.

LeRoy Criss Biography

In Los Angeles, California, on Friday, August 28, three score and 15 years ago, my husband LeRoy Criss, was born. His family affectionately called him "Buster." Most of you know him as "Criss."

LeRoy developed a love for flying at an early age. From elementary through high school, he made and flew many model airplanes. On December 6, 1943 he volunteered to serve in the United States Army Air Force. At the end of his basic training he elected to become and was selected to be an air cadet in the all Black Air Force in Tuskeege, Alabama, thereby becoming one of the original Tuskegee Airmen. His rigorous flight training was conducted with the 477th Composite Group and the 99th, 100th, and 332nd fighter squadrons. LeRoy trained and served at air ases such as Biloxi, Mississippi; Tuskeege, Alabama; Godman Field, Kentucky; and Waterboro, South Carolina. He learned to fly a wide range of planes, including the Piper Cub, the Streamen, and the B-25 Mitchell Bomber.

LeRoy became an officer, but not long after that, the war ended and he was discharged along with many other men who were no longer needed for the war effort. After his discharge, LeRoy decided to return home and enroll in college where he met his mate (and his match), Helen Butler -- me; and he has been happily married for over 53 years. As you may know, we have three wonderful children: Cassie, Renee, and Neal; and two beautiful grandchildren, Silas and Akele.

LeRoy attended Los Angels City College where, uppon graduation, he obtained a football scholarship to the University of California at Santa Barbara. He earned batchelors degrees at UCSB in Physical Education and Secondary Education. Later, he attended graduate school at the University of Southern California. LeRoy used his prior training in both flight school and college to mold his careers. For the first few years out of college he earned his living as a flight instructor and machinist at North America Aviation. He spent the last 37 years of his career as an educator -- a high school teacher. He was even asked to play football by the Los Angeles Rams.

As an educator, LeRoy taught Math, History, English as a Second Language, and Special Education. He also coached and officiated almost every major and minor sport, including football, baseball, girls softball, soccer, and swimming. LeRoy also served 30 years as the co-director of a community based, non-profit organization called Outward Bound Adventures (OBA), which offers outdoor education to inner-city teenagers. He taught environmental education, mountain orienteering, and how man, plants, and animals could live together in harmony. As many of you know, OBA did most of its training during outdoor field trips that required climbing Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental United States; or tide pooling off the California coast and the Catalina Islands; or back packing throughout the desert or deep into the back country of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Criss was not only a teacher to the many young people he instructed throughout his career, he was also their mentor, father, role model, doctor, astronomer, photographer, bus driver -- whatever he needed to be to help them.

As co-director of OBA, LeRoy has been written up in several newspapers, magazines, and school district newsletters. He is even part of a professional video made of OBA which was shown throughout the California State Park System.

In addition, LeRoy has been an active church member for the last 40 years, attending such churches as St. Paul Baptist, Trinity Baptist, and now, the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Pasadena.

In 1987, after more than 37 years of working, LeRoy retired, and has spent most of the last 13 years fishing, traveling extensively to places like Europe, Asia, Canada, Mexico, and hopefully Africa in September of 2001, and "driving Miss Daisy" (me). He also spends a lot of time watching his wife work while looking for creative ways to escape the "Honey Do" list.

Therefore, for all LeRoy's good deeds, we, his family, decided he had more than earned the right to have a 75th Birthday Party.

Happy Birthday "Criss," father, grandfather, and my husband.

- Brad Haugaard

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