ORANGE — Pauline Cornelius still remembers her mother’s cries the day they learned their brother and son, Capt. Andrew Maples Jr., had gone missing in action in Europe fighting in World War II with the distinguished Tuskegee Airmen.
“She got the news that his plane had gone down, he wasn’t coming home, I never heard anybody scream like that, just like she was in a movie … that was her pride and joy, her firstborn,” Cornelius, in her 80s, said Saturday from inside the historic courthouse on Main Street at a portrait unveiling ceremony honoring the fallen pilot who never returned to his native Orange.
Cornelius heard the crying as she walked up the street to their house, today marked with a state historic panel just a short walk from the courthouse where her brother’s picture is now also prominently displayed.
“I knew something was wrong,” said Maples’ sister, a young girl at the time. “When I saw the doctor’s car outside too, I knew. We never got to really enjoy being around him, but we were proud of him.”
Orange is proud of Capt. Maples, too as was evidenced at Saturday’s well-attended program revealing an oil painting of him, commissioned by the Orange County African-American Historical Society, and created by Gordonsville artist Becky Parrish. It was appropriately Armed Forces Day and the level of respect was high.
The picture of the local airman who was part of the celebrated all-Black flying squadron many called a hero hangs on the wall behind the judge’s bench, one away from President James Madison. The portrait shows a forever young, slightly-smirking, side-glancing, uniformed Capt. Maples and is located in the recently renovated circa 1850s facility. It is the first person of color to be so honored with a portrait in the building.
The son of a World War I veteran, Maples grew up in town as part of a large and close military family. He attended high school in Washington, D.C., and learned to fly at Hampton Institute, alma mater of Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
Maples enlisted in Tuskegee Army Advanced Flying School to join the war effort and had flown many combat missions with distinction, Orange Circuit Judge David B. Franzén stated Saturday in reading into the permanent court record a resolution that ordered the portrait.
Maples, at age 24, and crew mate 1st Lt. Maurice V. Esters, disappeared somewhere over the Adriatic Sea on June 26, 1944, aboard a P-47 Thunderbolt while on a bomber escort mission to Hungary, near the front line.
The fighter aircraft had experienced mechanical issues and Maples had radioed he was going to bail as he had before during the war. But a parachute was never spotted and his plane and its two occupants were never found in spite of an extensive search.
The sacrifice is worthy of recognition today, felt Judge Franzén who initiated the portrait project so as to better highlight the diverse contributions and community of Orange. A community’s strength comes from its diversity, the judge said in an interview on the courthouse steps.
“Capt. Maples, let’s be honest, the reason he’s being honored is because he’s a hero and his heroism is an example, exemplary, for everyone,” said Franzén. “If we could hold people up like Capt. Maples to the entire community, people will recognize that our community is diverse and honoring his heroism is exactly what we want to be doing.”
The judge added it’s an omission that needed to be corrected that Maples’ portrait is the first of an African American, calling it long overdue. In adding the new picture, the judge also rearranged existing pictures, placing President James Madison directly behind his bench, replacing previously situated colonial Gov. Alexander Spotswood.
“To me, the place of honor should be to President Madison because of the things that he did — not only in Orange County, but for the country at large and that’s a way of recognizing also Capt. Maples’ portrait is only one person away from President Madison’s. I think that speaks volumes because it does talk about the contributions from many people from many walks of lives,” said Franzén. He consulted with the OCAA Historical Society in deciding on Capt. Maples.
OCAAH Society president Darryle Crump said Maples was a community person, a veteran and a war hero. “It will be good if a person of color with all the aforementioned qualities would be in the courthouse — and actually the judge initiated it,” said the retired pastor of St. Mary’s Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. “Once he said that to us we suggested Capt. Maples.”
People are becoming more open to recognizing and respecting various cultures, Crump said of positive changes happening.
“You look in there, well, there’s no females in there either, there’s a female coming up as well,” Crump promised. OCAAH Society member Zann Nelson, of Reva, played a large part in organizing Saturday’s program attended by many nieces and nephews of Capt. Maples, several other judges, lawyers, press and elected officials. Dozens of people, mostly masked, gathered outside on the arched arcade before sitting on benches inside the ornate courtroom for the formal program.
Sister Doris Walker, now in her 80s, was among them. She was 4 when Maples died.
“I remember him coming to visit in Orange in his uniform and being a big brother I thought he was supposed to be,” she said. Walker agreed it took a certain kind of toughness to be a Tuskegee airman. “There wasn’t that many that were selected, he was one of the few that was selected to fly.”
Capt. Maples’ sister asked for copies of articles printed about the portrait unveiling and provided an email address, starting with “sputty” — her father’s nickname for the airman, “because he was always sputtering around like an airplane.” She said she was overwhelmed with gratitude for Orange County remembering his sacrifice.
“I said you want to put a picture where?! When Zann first contacted me I didn’t believe what she was saying. I think it’s a great honor for him and it’s a great honor for the young African Americans that are coming up in Orange to see that you can be somebody,” Walker said.
U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown, a veteran serving in Congress for Maryland’s 7th District, is part of the Maples family by marriage. He spoke in the courtroom after the cloth was removed from the portrait, thanking the judge for the recognition as well as the kind people of Orange County. Capt. Maples came from a long line of service, Brown said.
“It’s a family that reveres patriotism, honor and country and a family that recognizes that his service would not have been possible if it had not been first for the Buffalo Soldiers and the Harlem Hell-fighters of World War I,” Brown said.
“As a former Army aviator myself I know my service would not have been possible, certainly not in the cockpit, had it not been for Capt. Andrew Maples and the thousands Tuskegee navigators and aviators who proved that regardless of race, geography, ethnicity, background that all of us can have an opportunity to serve our country. And we’ll give our lives if necessary.”
Latrice Postell, great niece of Capt. Maples and granddaughter of Doris Walker, travelled to Orange for the ceremony from her home in Los Angeles. She said she is a fanatic about her family’s history and was already well aware of his service.
“I’m honored to be a part of his legacy and then other people are willing to honor him at the same time. I’m just amazed,” Postell said, remembering looking through photo albums as a child with her grandmother. “She’s going to tell me all the stories about her brothers and sisters and they did amazing things especially being a military family.”
The dance teacher said hanging the portrait to her relative says a lot about where Orange is at this point and where it is heading.
“To honor people of diversity and color, especially for the contributions that they did, in this city and this country is commendable and we hope we continue to progress that,” Postell said.
Culpeper played a part in paying due respects, including the Culpeper VFW Post Honor Guard led by Capt. Johnny Price. The seven-man group of advanced age veterans climbed stairs, posted colors and presented final honors and a folded flag to Maples’ sisters. Price stood on the sidewalk along Madison Road behind the courthouse directing members into the parking lot. He said was they were honored to take part.
“He hasn’t had a memorial service so while were here we’ll do the flag presentation, fire the three volleys and plays Taps for him. It’s just an honor for a fellow vet that was never found. It’s the unfortunate thing of war. I am glad that finally after however many years it is that he’s getting some honors,” Price said.
Culpeper VFW Post Commander Keith Price called it a worthwhile event.
“It’s astounding,” said the Culpeper town councilman of Capt. Maples’ story. “And I had no idea. I had never heard that story about him being in a Tuskegee airman and it’s too bad actually so I wanted to come down and pay my respects.”
The Rev. Ludwell Brown, of Culpeper, offered remarks from the courthouse steps as part of the program.
“This day will live on forever and forever,” he said, noting fellow Black veterans like Capt. Maples led the way for his own military career. “It’s really amazing we know that they were fighting for justice, for the real cause against adverse circumstances based on the fact that they when they wasn’t fighting they wasn’t respected. That’s one of the things we hope to correct and a lot of correction has been made, but those guys they really caught it.”
The portrait is a first, Brown said: “That is one of the best things that could happen and the little community of Orange is famous for doing what’s right,” he said.
Karen Mask, district director with the Office of Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, was also there Saturday.
“We absolutely wanted to be here to honor Capt. Maples,” she said. “It’s important to recognize the history, the deep history we have here in Orange County.” It’s about time there’s an African American in a portrait in the courthouse, Mask said. “It reflects the true history and diversity of the county and we’re delighted to see it.”
Portrait artist Becky Parrish, based in Orange County, shows in various galleries and had not heard of Maples when commissioned to do his painting. She was honored to be asked to do so.
“My father was also in the Army Air Force during World War II,” Parrish said of project synergy. She made the portrait in oil point based off a digital photograph of an original old photograph she had refined and colorized by McClanahan Camera in Warrenton, and effectively so, the artist said.
Parrish spent about two months working on the picture.
“The photo was old and there weren’t a lot of cast shadows, had to build up the paint several layers,” she said, describing the likeness’ subtle smile. “It was really hard to capture his eyes.”
Capt. Maples is looking sidelong in the image on which the portrait is based and the OCAAH Society wondered if it might be better if he was looking straight out. Parrish said she tried to center his eyes, but it didn’t look right so she stayed with the original look. “It’s kind of interesting he is looking out over the painting, looking toward the future,” the artist said.
Orange County Commonwealth’s Attorney Diana O’Connell also attended the unveiling.
“I think it’s fabulous,” she said. Walking her dogs around town, the prosecutor always comes upon the state historical marker dedicated a few years back to Maples.
“My dad was a fighter pilot so I was always like man, we need more than this,” O’Connell said. “I am thrilled, absolutely thrilled. Gave his life for our country, put him in here just like the other people.”