Number of Images: 1; Color: Black and white; Size: 8w x 10h; Type of Image: Portraits; Medium: Photographic print
Historic Images of the Smithsonian
Louis R. Purnell, 1920-2001, a Tuskegee Airman and curator of Astronautics at the National Air and Space Museum, wears his airman uniform. Early on Purnell was able to realize his dream of becoming a pilot when the Civilian Pilot Training Program was instituted on the campus of his undergraduate Institution, Lincoln University. In 1942, he was accepted into the seventh class of African American Army Air Force aviation cadets stationed at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Alabama (the Tuskegee Airmen), and in 1943 joined the all-Black 99th Fighter Squadron. During World War II, he completed two tours of duty in North Africa and southern Italy with the 99th, and later the 332nd Fighter Group. After his return to the United States, Purnell worked with the office of the Quartermaster General and the United States Book Exchange at the Library of Congress.
In 1961, Purnell joined the Division of Invertebrate Paleontology and Paleobotany in the National Museum of Natural History. In 1968, he moved to the Department of Astronautics of the National Air and Space Museum. During his career in the Astronautics Department (renamed the Department of Space Science and Exploration in 1980), he progressed through the ranks from Museum Specialist to Curator until his retirement in January 1985.
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9578, Box 1, Folder 1