LeRoy “Buster” Criss (1925-2008) was a Tuskegee Airman. Tuskegee Airmen were elite African American military pilots in the segregated United States Army Air Forces during World War II. These military pilots were trained at Moton Field of Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
LeRoy’s parents were LeRoy Criss (1901 in Arkansas -1977) and Cecilia (1893-1980) of Monrovia. LeRoy had an older sister named Elizabeth. Celia Adams (later, Ford) was the daughter of John and Adeline Adams. John B. Adams was born a slave with the original name of Hicks Bundy, probably in South Carolina. John Adams was recruited by Lucky Baldwin to come to the San Gabriel Valley near 1886. The Adams had their home at 228 Maple. John B. Adams was a major founder of Shiloh AME Zion Church of Monrovia.
In 2011, Brenda Gazzar of the Pasadena Star Newswrote, “Criss grew up on Maple Street and was co-captain of the football team at Monrovia-Arcadia-Duarte High School. As a boy, he loved to build model airplanes and once was about to fly in one off the roof of a house until he was stopped by a concerned neighbor, his cousin, Thelma Adams of Riverside, recalled. He took flying lessons at Monrovia Airport before entering the military on December 6, 1943. He was assigned to Biloxi, Mississippi for basic training and then transferred to Tuskegee Army Air Force Base for aviation cadet training. ‘That was his dream,’ Thelma Adams said. ‘He always wanted to fly airplanes.’ Although he didn’t fly in combat, he did learn to fly the Piper Cub, the Stearman, and the B-25 Mitchell Bomber and had assignments at Godman Field, Kentucky, and Waterboro, South Carolina. He served until 1946... His daughter, Renee Criss said, ‘He loved to recount stories of his time as a Tuskegee Airman, and was once arrested after he and his colleagues tried to enter an all-White officers club.” (“Calls for Statue of Tuskegee Airman in Monrovia”, Pasadena Star-News, 3 September 2011.)
At Monrovia High School, LeRoy was “like brothers” with Julius Parker. When Parker turned 18, he joined the U.S. Army’s Special Services. Other African Americans from Monrovia who went to World War II include Forrest Hooks, Norman Ross, and Phillip Adams. Phillip Bernard Adams (1921-1944) didn’t make it home; he was LeRoy’s cousin.
After leaving the service as a second lieutenant in 1946, LeRoy Criss attended Los Angeles City College and UC Santa Barbara. Criss served as a flight instructor and machinist at North American Aviation. Then for 37 years, he taught math, history, English as a Second Language, and special education in Los Angeles and Duarte. Also a mountaineer, LeRoy – and his wife, Helen – were co-founders of Outward Bound Adventures, Inc. Established in 1962, OBA has led tens of thousands of underserved urban youth on camping and nature adventures. Helen Yvonne Criss was a school counselor. The couple had three children: Cassandra, Renee, and LeNeal. The Criss were longtime residents of Pasadena.