September 17, 2020

Levi H. Thornhill passed away at the Community Living Center, Veterans Hospital, Wilshire campus Wednesday, September 9, 2020, just short of his 98th birthday. He was the first child born to parents, Levi M. and Arrie M. Thornhill. His grandparents were Richard and Mattie Trent, who lived on a farm in Appomattox County, Virginia where Levi was born.

His father was a Buffalo Soldier, stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. In 1927, they moved back to Virginia where a new world opened. His Mom was the first of her ten siblings, five brothers and four sisters, to graduate from college. She got a job teaching at a one room school. The great part of it all was the fact that he got to go with her every day.

They moved to Lynchburg the summer of 1931. His elementary school years were very boring because he had already had all of what was being taught. High school was much better. He played football, position center at six feet 140 pounds, basketball, and played saxophone with a group he and his buddies put together.

The experience made him realize this was not going to be his vocation. Short order cook was not his favorite either. At the end of summer, he got notice from Uncle Sam, so he volunteered. His dad informed him that volunteering would give him a better chance of getting to where he wanted to go. This was the Air Corp at Tuskegee, Alabama. The next stop was aircraft mechanic school in Lincoln, Nebraska and specialty school at Chanute Field in Illinois. The next stop was Selfridge, Michigan. His group learned that if they stayed in 302nd Squadron, they could all become crew chiefs. All 13 guys stayed.


His assignments were aircraft mechanic school, Chanute Field, IL, Selfridge, MI; 332FG, Toronto, Italy, Monti Corvino, Naples, Ramitelli, Italy: 447th Composite Group’s 617t Squadron, Lockbourne, OH; Pilot Training, Randolph AFB, TX; 85th FTR Group, 526 fighter Squadron, Dover, DE, Pilot P-47s; 1737 Ferry Squadron, Dover, DE, Ferry single engine aircraft; Squadron Officers School, Luke AFB, AZ, Instructor Pilot/Safety Officer; Nellis, AFB, NV, Squadron Maintenance officer, field Maintenance officer, flight test pilot. Levi retired from the Air Force in 1965.

Civilian Occupations included Bonanza Airlines as a factory representative and assistant to the VP of maintenance engineering. Hughes Air West/Republic as an aircraft engineer. Retired November 1981.

A Pan Am team of eight mostly retired airline engineers started work in 1982, at Rockwell International plant in Downey, CA. This entailed an independent analysis to determine the adequacy or inadequacy of the space shuttle systems checkout program. Levi was a key member of the team. His extensive knowledge of aircraft hydraulic, air conditioning, cabin pressurization and landing gear systems made him the ideal person to analyze those systems on the Orbiter.

In 1987, Levi married Dottie, and this 33-year marriage remained until his death. They loved each other so much and consumed their lives with travel to many places outside the United States as well as in the states. They bowled, played golf, danced, attended plays, they were season ticket holders to the Raiders and Lakers. Levi loved movies, so movie dates were a must. They especially enjoyed music and the Playboy Jazz Festival. When there was time, they played games and Dottie was the winner most of the time. They spent time at their time-share properties with many friends. They looked forward to meetings with the Tuskegee Airmen of Los Angeles and going to the conventions each year. This gave us a chance to see and enjoy old friends from all over the country. The Travel Club which started with 20 members was great fun. They attended church together at West Angeles Church of God in Christ.

He was honored to be presented the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bush in 2007, and thrilled to attend the inauguration of President Barrack Obama on January 18, 2009.

Levi volunteered at Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum (TAM), founded by Robin Petgrave, mentoring young boys and girls interested in aviation. At the age of 86, Levi flew in the seat behind fifteen-year-old Kimberly Anyadike in a Cessna 172 from Compton, CA to Virginia in tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen. They made several stops going and returning, Tuskegee being one of the stops.

Levi has visited many schools including elementary, middle, high schools, and colleges to speak about his experiences as a Tuskegee Airman.

He was one of the airmen who interviewed with George Lucas on the movie “Red Tails” about the Tuskegee Airmen.

Roger and Margaret Starner of Miami, Florida, deserve special recognition. They have named a scholarship in Levi H. Thornhill’s name to The State University of Iowa Foundation. It is the Donor’s desire that preference be given to a student who is of African American descent. First preference will be given to students majoring in biomedical engineering and second preference given to students majoring in environmental engineering. I received an email from Roger and his words touched me deeply. “Somewhere in the past five years, I began to realize that Levi was very special to me. He is the only guy I have ever thought of as a dear friend.”

Levi Leaves to cherish his memory his loving wife, Dorothy (Dottie), son, Bruce, daughter, Lisa (Scott) brother, Albert Brown (Janice), sister, Talma (Pat) Sullivan, sister, Gladys Cobb, niece, Jeanie Rose (James), surrogate grand kids, Nolan and Nia Marshall, and many relatives and friends.

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