Ernest Rosser’s Tuskegee Airmen Tribute Car displayed at Grimes Field MERFI ‘Wings & Wheels’ event


By Ron Brohm

Contributing writer

This year’s MERFI Wings & Wheels on Aug. 19 landed on the 80th Anniversary of when Warren Grimes gave the airport to the City of Urbana. In addition it was the 125th anniversary of Grimes’s birth. What a trifecta!

Many really cool airplanes were on hand at the event.

All three museums were also open for this (MERFI) Mid-Eastern Regional Fly-In event, including; the Mid-America Flight Museum (old armory building south of the airfield ), Champaign Aviation Museum and the Grimes Flying Lab Museum.

To top off the day’s activities was the MERFI Car Show which offered 50 dash plaques, a Grand Champion trophy, top 10 awards and 50/50 drawings. They even had a new “Top Gun” youth car category this year with free admission. Many nice cars competed in the event.

But a surprise visit by Ernest Rosser and his famous patriotic Tuskegee Tribute Show Car stole the show. This is a very special car which has a very special story behind it and a very special car owner and patriot behind the wheel.

Possibly the most patriotic car in America?

It all started when the Army veteran from nearby Springfield bought an old Dodge Dart for only $10, in 1987. He was simply going to use it as his car to go fishing in and maybe land that “big one,” someday, so to speak.

That is, “until things changed.”

“I belonged to a car club in Springfield and my wife and I were watching TV one night and we saw one of our car club members, Bob Peoples, on TV, ” said Rosser. “They were talking about him being a Tuskegee Airman. We were kind of in shock. We had no idea. We just couldn’t believe our friend and fellow club member, Bob Peoples, was a real Tuskegee Airmen and we never knew anything about it.

“So, it was right then and there that I knew I wanted to do something to honor our friend Bob (who had just passed), and all of the Tuskegee Airmen,” added Rosser.

That single moment of learning his friend had been a Tuskegee Airman motivated Rosser to use that old Dodge Dart he bought to go fishing in for something bigger and better instead – something that could honor America and these American Tuskegee Airmen heroes.

Rosser was now on a new mission in life: “I learned everything I could about the Tuskegee Airmen and started to prepare the car for events,” said Rosser.

“After I got the old Dart fixed up and ready to hit the road, the last thing I did was put a professional ‘wrap’ on it. An original authentic wrap honoring the Tuskegee Airmen,” he said. Shortly after that, Ernest displayed the Tuskegee Airmen Tribute car in its first car show and he has been displaying it ever since.

Over the years the car has been displayed and honored all over the Midwest. It’s been on display at conventions, meetings, gatherings, festivals, air shows and countless car shows.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first Black military pilots in the United States in the 1940s. There were 992 pilots trained at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. With ground personnel, aircraft mechanics, and logistical personnel, there were over 14,000 total Tuskegee Airmen, but not many remain alive today.

Nicknamed the “Red Tails,” these pilots were some of the best trained and talented airmen in the entire military. The heroic Tuskegee Airmen flew 15,533 combat sorties on 1,578 missions during World War II. Fifty-five airmen were credited with destroying 112 German aircraft in the air.

The purpose of Rosser’s car is to honor these Tuskegee Airmen.

“It’s a tribute to them and I am honored to be able to do this and feel privileged and proud to have gotten to meet so many Tuskegee Airmen over the years and to have had them sign my car,” said Rosser.

The car has also been signed by many mayors, dignitaries, high ranking military officers, veterans and the like. But most importantly, he has Tuskegee Airmen autograph the car. “I reserve the front of the car only for Tuskegee Airmen,” said Rosser.

Rosser has met over 100 Tuskegee Airmen, escorted over 50 to their final resting place and has had 45 of them sign his car.

Another one of the “eye catchers” of his Tuskegee tribute car is the flame throwing feature. Flames shoot out of the back of his car like an airplane taking off.

Rosser is a veteran himself. In 1962, he served in the Army at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.

“I drove a truck in the Army and have been driving one ever since.” said Rosser. Up until a few months ago, when he retired at age 81, Rosser was still a licensed CDL driver, driving a truck commercially 4-5 days a week.

Future plans down the line, possibly sooner than later, will be donating his vehicle to a prominent national museum to be put on display for all to see, such as the National Museum of the USAF, which has a Tuskegee Airmen exhibit.

“I won’t be able to do what I’m doing forever so I hope to find the ‘right’ home for my car so it can be viewed by many and it can continue to honor the Tuskegee Airmen for a long time to come,” said Rosser.

So, for a guy who originally bought the car for $10 to go fishing, thinking he might land that big one, fate ended up taking him in another direction, which landed him the biggest catch of all – “The Most Patriotic Car in America!”


Ron Brohm (CPRP) is an outdoors, tourism, automotive, aviation and parks and recreation journalist and author and Park Commissioner for the City of Riverside.

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