DOVER — A previously unknown chapter of the life of former Delaware State University President Luna I. Mishoe has come to light, as recent research determined that the seventh president of the university served during World War II as a Tuskegee Airmen.
After his first professional academic chapter as a professor of mathematics and physics at Kittrell College in North Carolina, the future president of then-Delaware State College was a Tuskegee Airman from 1942 to 1945. He was a photographic intelligence and communications officer for the all-black Army Air Force 99th Squadron, the legendary Tuskegee Airmen force that served with distinction in the World War II European Theater of Operations.
That chapter of Dr. Mishoe’s life was uncovered over the last year by Andre Swygert, the son of DSC alumni Arnold (deceased) and Peggy Swygert (classes of ’78 and ’62, respectively). An avid student of Tuskegee Airmen history, Mr. Swygert, during the course of his research, discovered the name “Mishoe” in connection with the 99th Squadron and later substantiated that Dr. Luna I. Mishoe was indeed a part of that legendary aviation group.
Apparently Dr. Mishoe, who died in 1989, was so reticent about that aspect of his World War II service, Mr. Swygert’s discovery was also news to the Mishoe family — which Mr. Swygert said was not unusual among veterans of the unit.
“Some Tuskegee Airmen treated that as just another part of their life story and didn’t talk much about it,” Mr. Swygert said.
On Dec. 10, 2016, the John H. Porter First State Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen held a luncheon celebration in honor of Dr. Mishoe and his service. In addition to receiving numerous posthumous recognitions from the city of Dover, then-Gov. Jack Markell and the Delaware Senate, the Mishoe family also received a Congressional Gold Medal bronze replica. The original Congressional Gold Medal awarded to the Tuskegee Airmen collectively in 2007 is on display at the Smithsonian Institute.
“This is important biographical information about Dr. Mishoe, because it reveals a developmental chapter of his life that contributed to making him the leader that then-Delaware State College would need him to be during his 27-year tenure,” said DSU President Harry L. Williams about the president who served from 1960 to 1987.
After his Tuskegee Airmen service ended, Dr. Mishoe was introduced to Delaware State College for the first time when he was hired to teach mathematics and physics from 1946-1948. He moved on to join the faculty at then-Morgan State College in Baltimore from 1948 to 1960.
During that period, he earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from New York University in 1953 (only the 17th African American to do so in math) and did postdoctoral research at Oxford University in England during the 1955-1956 academic year.
Following his postdoctorate work, Dr. Mishoe returned to Morgan State where he was promoted to full professor and appointed chairman of the college’s Division of Natural Sciences.
In addition, from 1952 to 1957, Dr. Mishoe worked during the summers as a research mathematician at the Aberdeen Proving Ground’s Ballistic Research Laboratory; he would then serve from 1957 to 1960 as a consultant in math and ballistics for the same laboratory. It was in this work that he made a name for himself by creating mathematical methods for solving some of the problems faced initially by the United States in developing its first satellites. He also developed equations for missiles.
Dr. Mishoe left Morgan State in 1960 to become the president of Delaware State College, where he would build greatly on the pivotal leadership of his predecessor Dr. Jerome Holland, who is credited with saving the college from closure in the 1950s. Dr. Mishoe served as president for the next 27 years.
During his long tenure at Delaware State, the institution would experience the greatest growth ever achieved under any presidential tenure in its history.
Dr. Mishoe led a transformation that included greatly improving the relationship between the college and state government; the construction 10 new buildings on campus and the upgrading of existing ones; and the significant expansion of the academic offerings including an increase in undergraduate degree programs from 18 to 70, as well as the establishment of the first three master degree programs.
All of those developments contributed to and supported the prolific expansion of enrollment from 368 to 2,327 students prior to his retirement.
Carlos Holmes, a longtime journalist, is director of News Services for Delaware State University.