U.S. Army Air Force World War II veteran Edward Lucien Toppins was a fighter pilot credited with shooting down four German enemy fighter aircraft during aerial combat, a distinction shared with two other Tuskegee Airmen.
Toppins was born in Mississippi on June 12, 1915. His mother was Martha Toppins, who worked in the clothing industry. He had three sisters: Henrietta, Delphine, and Naomi. In the 1920s, the Toppins family resided in Louisiana, and in the 1930s, they moved to San Francisco, California, where the mother worked as a maid for a wealthy family. Edward enrolled in Los Angeles Junior College, and after graduating, he attended the University of San Francisco.
While attending The University of San Francisco, Toppins began pursuing his lifelong passion of flying airplanes. He took courses in civilian pilot training and earned his commercial pilot license and instructor rating during an era when Blacks had trouble enrolling in such classes. Toppins’s success here helped lay the foundation for his prowess in the cockpit.
On October 16, 1940, 25-year-old Toppins registered for military service and applied for the Tuskegee Army Air Field Training Program. Toppins was accepted into the program and began his training. During that training, Toppins was injured in a plane crash. He recovered and graduated with class 42-H and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on September 6, 1942.
Toppins would fly over 141 sorties throughout his military career. A sortie is a combat mission for an aircraft. After graduation, Toppins was assigned as a fighter pilot within the all-Black 332nd Fighter Group’s 99th Fighter Squadron, which saw service in Austria, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia. The 99th Fighter Squadron served primarily as a flying escort for heavy bombers that struck targets in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Toppins shot down four German aircraft in World War II. The first was on January 27, 1944, when he shot down a Focke-Wulf Fw 190.  The second came on July 18, 1944, when he shot down another Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Two days later, on July 20, 1944, he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109. On July 26, 1944, he shot down another Messerschmitt Bf 109. He flew the North American Aviation P-51 Mustang mounted with Browning machine guns through most of these missions. He and the other Tuskegee Airmen were given grudging respect by their German opponents, who called the 99th Fighter Squadron Der Schwarze Vogelmenschen or “Black Birdmen.”
Because of his success, Toppins was promoted to Captain at age 29 in 1944. His World War II decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with five clusters, a Victory Medal, an Eastern Theater Offensive Ribbon with seven battle stars, and an American Defense recognition.
On returning to the United States in 1945, Toppins was given command of the 602nd Air Engineering Squadron, part of the 580th Air Services Group at the Lockbourne Army Air Base of Ohio.
After the war, Toppins married Lucille, the widow of fellow Tuskegee Airman Sidney Brooks.
On December 10, 1946, during a training mission, Captain Toppins crashed while flying a B-25 bomber with three other military personnel. All were killed. Toppins was 31 at the time of the crash, and his body was interred at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Francisco.
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Nicky Tenuto, “Edward L. Toppins,” CAF Rise Above https://cafriseabove.org/edward-lucien-toppins; Dr. Daniel L. Haulman, “112 Victories: Aerial Victory Credits of the Tuskegee Airmen,” Air Force Historical Research Agency https://acepilots.com/mto/332-aerial-victories.pdf
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