Noel Parrish ’28 named to Texas Aviation Hall of Fame

The late Rice alumnus Brig. Gen. Noel Parrish ’28, who is credited with making it possible for African-Americans to serve as aviators in the U.S. military when he was commander of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, was recently selected for induction into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame.

Noel Parrish

Noel Parrish

Seventy-one people, including President George H.W. Bush and Howard Hughes, have received this honor since the hall of fame was established in 1995 to honor and recognize Texans and Texas companies or organizations that have made significant and lasting contributions to the advancement of aviation.

The five new members — Parrish, retired NASA astronaut and Navy Capt. James Lovell, retired Air Force colonel and current U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, pioneering pilot Azellia White and Braniff Airways founders Thomas and Paul Braniff — were selected from more than 100 nominees by a panel of aviation historians and experts and the Lone Star Flight Museum Board. They will be inducted May 5 at the “Flights of Fancy” gala at the museum’s new home at Houston’s Ellington Airport.

Born in Kentucky and raised in Georgia and Alabama, Parrish graduated from high school at 15, and in 1928, at age 18, he earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the Rice Institute. After his first year of graduate school, he left Rice and decided to hitchhike to California, but finding jobs scarce in the summer of 1930, he enlisted in the Army as a member of the 11th Cavalry. In the summer of 1931, Parrish was appointed a flying cadet, and he earned his wings in 1932. For the next nine years he rose through the ranks, and in March 1941, while still a student at the Air Command and Staff School at Maxwell Field in Alabama, he was appointed assistant director of training for the Eastern Flying Training Command. This brought him into direct contact with the Army’s first ever all-black flying unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, formed that same month.

After graduating from command school, Parrish became the director of training at the Tuskegee Army Flying School — two days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. A year later, in December 1942, he was promoted to base commander. The Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 1,500 combat missions in North Africa and Italy, shooting down more than 100 aircraft and disabling another 150 on the ground; they received three distinguished unit citations.

After World War II, Parrish earned the rank of brigadier general. He returned to Rice after his retirement in 1964 to earn master’s and doctorate degrees in history. He died in 1987.

The Brigadier General Noel F. Parrish Award, the most prestigious award given by Tuskegee Airmen Inc., was established in honor of Parrish’s efforts to desegregate his troops and improve community relations.


About Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is a senior editor in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.