James Waddell


Object Number - UPL 34869 - James Waddell, Airfield Engineer, 847th Engineer Aviation Battalion.

James was a member of a unit responsible for building airfields. He was born in 1921, the son of a clergyman and worked 12-hour shifts delivering coal and making ice for a shop in Philadelphia before the war. In 1937 he was arrested for protesting for equal employment rights for African-Americans. When war broke out, James approached the Canadians to see if he could fly with the Royal Canadian Air Force as a gunner. He was concerned that he would be discriminated against in the US Army, and wanted to fight. Told to wait, he joined the American armed forces in September 1942. He was posted to Britain as part of the 847th Engineer Aviation Battalion. In England he helped to build Debach and Eye airfields before he moved to Europe with the advancing armies. Like most African-American soldiers, James had to overcome prejudice both at home and in the UK: ‘I had a couple of run-ins in town. You’d be surprised the things [white troops] said about us. They had spread the lie that we had tails! Talk to other black soldiers, they’ll say the same thing. Such vicious statements made about the same person who may one day, on the field of battle, save his life.’

Sadly, many stories like James’s have been lost: very few African-Americans were interviewed about their experiences after the war. Ground units rarely organised reunions, as combat units did. James did not keep in touch with his fellow soldiers, seeing only one man again after the war. ‘I’ve even forgotten his name. That was in 1952. I’ve not seen that person since.’ James became a keen student of African-American history. When asked what he would like people to think when they viewed his recorded interview, he said: ‘That black man on that film: he’s an American. Don’t call me white. Don’t call me black. Call me James: American citizen.’

James served overseas until 22 February 1946, and was discharged on 28 July 1946. He died in 2014.


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Units served with


  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Civilian
  • Nationality: British
  • Unit: 847th Engineer Aviation Battalion


Eye, home of the 490th Bomb Group, photographed from the air. Image via Mark Brown, AFA. Written on slide casing: 'Eye from air.'
  • Site type: Airfield
  • Known as: Brome


Event Location Date Description


Richmond, Virginia 19 June 1921


Service in Europe

24 June 1943 - 22 February 1946


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 20 July 2014


Whitemarsh Memorial Park, Ambler, Pennsylvania


Date2 Feb 2023 13:53:20
Date2 Feb 2023 13:43:48

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Date2 Feb 2023 12:24:18
Date31 Jan 2023 09:11:14

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Date16 Jan 2023 15:16:41

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Date17 Aug 2018 10:33:35

American Air Museum text from displays.

James Waddell: Gallery (1 items)