Alex A. Boudreaux was born November 17, 1920, in the rural town of Carencro, Louisiana - just north of Lafayette. In those days the area was predominantly populated by French-speaking Cajuns (Arcadians who had migrated south from Eastern Canada and settled in the Louisiana Bayou after the British had exiled them in 1755.) When he was two years old Alex lost his mother; and his family moved to Lake Charles, where he learned to speak English by attending Sacred Heart parochial grade school and high school. He graduated in 1939. Alex was raised by his maternal grandmother; a lady who could never speak, read, or write English.
Alex still has vivid memories from the age of 5, running barefoot through the fields to deliver 5 gallon cans of well water to barnstormers who landed their biplanes on the grass strip airport within walking distance of his home. (Engines on the old Wacos were water-cooled back then.) He would even help mix the lacquer (“banana wash”) that was made to repair and seal the fabric used to cover the wooden frames of the biplanes. Oh, to catch a ride on one of those machines! Or better still, to someday be able to fly them himself! Alex was obsessed with airplanes. He made models of them with anything he could find: scrap wood, paper, and even egg cartons. He was an excellent artist who could accurately sketch many of the planes of that era and was later known for his excellent oil paintings and watercolors. One day he finally got his first five-minute ride. He still has a gleam in his eyes and a huge smile as he recalls, “That’s the day the bug bit me!” Without a doubt, the ultimate goal of Alex Boudreaux from a very young age was to be a pilot some day. He read with gusto the books about Lindbergh, Rickenbacker, and other famous aviators of the era.
Unfortunately, following WW I the common perception was that blacks lacked the physical and mental attributes to become pilots. There were even books about the subject
(some official texts of the U.S. War Department) containing statements that they also lacked the courage to even be good soldiers. In the late 1930’s with the encouragement of Senators Everett Dirkson and Harry S. Truman (among others,) President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed to allow the “Tuskegee Experiment,” an all black pilot training facility.
(There are many outstanding books and several documentaries/movies about this era, and I will leave the details of the program to those other sources.)
While completing his second year of college at Xavier University in New Orleans (the Lake Charles Branch) Alex drew a large sketch from memory of an AT-6 trainer he had seen in San Antonio. The picture was so good that it was framed and displayed in the hotel restaurant where he served as a waiter. The base commander from the Lake Charles Army Air Corps repair facility was eating there one Friday and asked someone who the artist of that particular sketch was. When told it was his waiter, he immediately began conversing with Alex about aviation. The following Monday morning, Alex was working for the man. (In fact, he worked that entire day before they remembered he should fill out a job application.) His first job was creating the stencils and operating the mimeograph machine in the business office above the bank across the street from the hotel restaurant where he’d waited tables. The office for him and his boss was soon completed at the base, and they moved there in December of 1941.
Alex was hired as a civil service worker, a messenger, for the Army Air Corps at Lake Charles Army Air Base. The base was essentially a repair depot for many different types of aircraft, and large shipments of tech orders were delivered daily. Alex had an office with the base commander, and his duties were to post the updated tech orders to the master set and then deliver the remainder to the various maintenance and repair sites on base. To accomplish this task, Alex rode a Cushman scooter with a big basket in front. While posting all the changes to the aircraft manuals, Alex rather self-taught himself on most of the mechanical aspects of aircraft (hydraulics, pneumatics, fuel systems, flight controls, propulsion, rivets, brakes, etc.) The more he learned the more he wanted to learn, his ultimate goal still was to be a pilot himself.
With the draft breathing down his neck, Alex enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserves in August 1942. At the time, only about 1% of the enlisted force in the AAC Reserve was black, so he was already charting new paths. He was called to active duty as an aviation cadet in February 1943 at Tuskegee AAF, Alabama, a member of Class 43-J. He soloed after only five hours; cadets were allowed eight hours of dual time before soloing. Alex successfully completed pilot training in primary, basic, and advanced flight; and he was doing well towards finally attaining his pilot wings and commission as a second lieutenant. At the time of the “Tuskegee Experiment” it is rumored that there was actually a prejudicial policy or quota system that would eliminate black aviation cadets from training (some as late as the morning of their graduation) even if they were progressing well with all facets of the program. Historians all know that it was common for black students to be booted out for some reason, but nobody has been able to substantiate or document the actual official philosophy or procedure used. Unfortunately, this racist system (whatever it was) caused Alex’s demise as an Army Air Corps pilot. He was told that he had to leave just two weeks shy of his graduation. Alex was simply told, “Your flight training is now terminated,” and there was nothing he could do about it.
Alex simply said to himself, “I am going to fly eventually, and I will use the G.I. bill to do it.” In the meantime, he was trained in radios and communications at Tuskegee and was assigned to the Army Airways Communication System in October 1944 before being shipped off to Augusta, Georgia to learn how to shoot the bazooka. Alex still isn’t certain why he was sent there, but he recalls fondly getting to blow up cars obtained from the local junkyard. He was trained and was later an instructor in Air Traffic Control at Warner Robbins AAF in Macon, Georgia, before serving the remainder of his military enlistment as Tower and Air Traffic Controller officer for AACS. At Godman Field, Kentucky (next to Ft. Knox) he received his Civil Aeronautics license. He was transferred to Freeman Field, Indiana, and then back to Godman; where he was discharged in February 1946. His wife, Mary Louise, was living with her sister in San Francisco and working at a hospital there at the time of Alex’s discharge; so Alex went to be with her. He had lots of job offers and did a few things to supplement the “52/20” stipend that Uncle Sam gave veterans after their discharge (52 weeks at $20 a week.) From February to May of 1946, Alex served as a waiter on a train car traversing the western states, an experience he remembers fondly.
Following his discharge, Alex kept in touch with Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, who had recently become commander of the 477th Composite Group at Lockbourne AAF (now Rickenbacker.) From March of 1946 until June of 1949 only black airmen manned that base. There were no white people in either of its two squadrons: the 617th Bombardment Squadron (B-25 aircraft) or the 301st Fighter Squadron (P-47 aircraft.) Colonel Davis contacted Alex in California to tell him that he had a tower position for him, and days later Alex rode the streetcar down High Street to the base to begin his new civilian job in the tower. He fondly recalls reporting to Colonel Davis’ secretary (a Miss Thomas.) She told him, “Just throw your bags over there, and go replace that guy in the tower. He’s been on duty for 16 hours.” Alex did. And that is how his 33-year career as a controller (and the first black controller) for the Civil Aeronautics Board (later the Federal Aviation Administration) began. Except for an 8-month tour at Peoria and a 13-month tour in Detroit, Alex spent his entire career here in Columbus, mostly at Port Columbus. Alex was offered desk jobs at FAA HQ and in Washington DC, as well as Air Traffic Control positions in such places as the Congo and airports like Kennedy, LaGuardia, and O’Hare. It wasn’t about the money; Alex and his family loved Columbus, his job, and his (at last!) flying opportunities here in Central Ohio.
Just as he had promised himself earlier, Alex used the G.I. Bill to earn his pilot’s certificates; and by 1948 he held his Private, Commercial, Single & Multi-Engine, Flight Instructor and Instrument ratings and licenses. His family remained in Columbus while Alex commuted home by small airplane on weekends from Peoria and Detroit. A lifetime friend (Foster Lane who founded and ran Lane Aviation for many years) allowed Alex to check out in nearly every aircraft available. As an FAA employee, Alex criss-crossed the country on every airline and airliner there was, doing “route checks.” He just loved sitting in the cockpit running checklists and learning new things by the minute. That particular “perk” remains among Alex’s fondest memories of his civilian career. Here was a guy who 50 years earlier dreamed of flying a fabric-covered, open cockpit biplane now cruising at 37,000 feet and 500 mph, surrounded by unbelievable gauges, instruments, and technology!
To do the best possible job as an aircraft controller, Alex was always educating himself and upgrading his credentials. He earned both his Meteorology Rating and Certificate from the U.S. Weather Bureau and his Radio Telephone Operators License from the FCC. Alex Retired from the FAA as a GS-14 on January 1, 1977.
Prior to her death in 2001, Alex was married to his wife, friend, and confidant, Mary Louise for 56 years. They have three children, 4 grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.
Alex A. Boudreaux is admired by everyone he meets. He’s not a “joiner,” as would seem from all the organizations he belongs to. Instead, he is an active participant and contributor to each one. He is a life member of the Ohio Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.; charter member of Motts Military Museum; and founding member of the Ohio Museum of Flight at Port Columbus Airport and a volunteer there for many years (until it closed.) Alex is active in church, youth groups, American Legion, 40&8, YMCA, Urban League, Air Force Association (since 1947,) Knights of Columbus, and National Aerospace Education Group. In 2005 he was inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame. For many years, Alex has been a featured speaker at schools, veterans groups, and other organizations; and he continues to be an inspiration and role model for all who hear his story. We are all proud to call Alex our friend, and I am honored to tell his story.
Thank you for posting the story of Alex, Claudia, He was one of the most likable gentlemen one could ever meet. Sadly, Alex passed away on February 20, 2011. I was proud to be buddies with Alex the past ten years or so of his life. We went together to all kinds of events, presentations, air shows, and other functions; and he always stood out in the crowd with his genuine smile and love of people. The last event I took him to was a special live viewing of President Obama's inauguration that was held in the rotunda of the Ohio State capital building.The Tuskegee Airmen were honored guests, and Alex was so pleased to witness this historic event. Alex Boudreaux has had an extraordinarily positive impact on a number of lives, including mine. And we sincerely miss him.
I volunteered with Alex at the Ohio History of Flight Museum. He was one of the nicest people I ever met, and was really into aviation history- and helped make it! I miss him.
I had the pleasure of meeting Alex in 2002, during unfortunate circumstances. He was very good friends with Joseph (also a Veteran) and Juanita Jessing and both of them passed away within 10 days of one another. Alex was there during the entire ordeal and was such a pillar of strength. He said that the Jessing's had helped him when his own wife Mary passed away. He was such a pleasure to talk to and even years after the funerals, I continued to call Alex and we would literally spend hours on the phone. He was such an educated and intelligent person who stayed abreast of all of the political issues. I will always remember his kind, gentle voice and his composure during even the most stressful situations. I continue to speak of his abilities and strengths in my classroom and that I am proud to have met such a wonderful person. I miss him and it was wonderful to see all of Alex's accomplishments written so eloquently. Thank you.