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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive

One Tuskegee Airman's Story and other tales

My father learned to fly a plane while in school at West Virginia State. Consequently - he volunteered for the Tuskeegee Airman - and was accepted.

I knew little about his experiences in the service until I was older -he didn't like to talk much about a painful period in his life, but I learned more when he became a member of the Phildelphia Chapter of the Airmen, and I spent time listening to the sharing of stories by different members.

My Dad's story:

My dad and another friend had gone home to Chicago on leave - and returned to Tuskeegee together. When they got returned together - helping each other with their bags - they were spotted by a group of local rednecks. Shouts of "nigger-lover" sounded - they assumed that my dad was white (he was quite fair-skinned with blue eyes) and the two friends were attacked and my father was severely injured, fighting to defend himself.

My dad was hospitalized and word got back to the base that he had been killed. A small riot occurred on the base - and members of the Airmen vowed to take retribution on those who had done the deed.

To stop the rebellion my dad was removed from the hospital and carried out to be seen by the men - proving he hadn't been killed.
As a consequence - my father was brought up on charges - for inciting a riot - and imprisoned. The detention facility on the base was run by a brutal redneck officer who made life a living hell for those black men detained there. Oddly enough - the officer had one passion - playing chess, and my father was the only detainee who could play. His desire to play chess out-weighed his racism - and my father engaged him in competition each day - and was able to win better treatment for his fellow detainees - when he consistantly beat the officer across the chessboard.

My father had a scar above his eyebrow, a souvenir of the incident - which faded over the years - but the memories of the treatment meted out by the military never faded.

America paid little attention - until recently, to the heroic role of a group of black men, who could fly planes - and who flew bravely to defend a county in WW2 which continued to inflict unequal treatment on its own citizens.

Other tales:

I also heard the tales told by my uncle who served in Korea (digging latrines) - and experienced first-hand the racism of the miltary in the Vietnam era, both in 'Nam and in Germany, where the Black Panther Party worked to organize black GI's.

My cousin Warren served two terms in 'Nam in the Marines - at a time when many black GI's were sent out on some of the most dangerous missions. Interestingly, the North Vietnamese were aware of the racial contradictions back in the States and initiated a policy of attempting to win over black GI's, and a campaign to inform them about racist incidents taking place back home. I personally met with, and interviewed a number of Black GI's who refused to continue to fight against the Vietnamese and split the US military to either join them, or be spirited to neutral contries.

Another cousin went to Annapolis - he was a local basketball star in Deleware, and at the top of his academic class, and was met with harsh treatment once there - dead cats in his locker and urination on his uniforms. The Navy did nothing to stop the harrassment.

On the other hand - the military was the vehicle by which several other of my cousins were able to get a college education, and was viewed by part of my family as a route to upward mobility.

Additional Thoughts:

When we discuss the role of African American's in the military - it is important for all of us to share the stories we have heard, or our own experiences, in order to counter the overall US effort to obfuscate the contributions of its citizens of color - in all walks of our society.

I am not a historian - I'm an anthropologist, and consequently am more interested in people's own tales and reminises - rather than debates about facts - because it is the perceptions of people that define a culture and create an environment of oppression - or of hope for change.

I am a bit dismayed by a tendency of late - here on this board, for the discussion to degenerate into attack and animosity over whose version of the "truth" (is there any such thing?) is more valid. Even "history" is subjective.

I hope to read more from posters here on the stories they have had passed down to them of their family experiences in the military, and to see more hands-on assistance to those who are hopelessly lost attempting to untangle their ancestors data from a mass of confusing documents and records.

I thank Bennie for hosting this forum, and am glad to see him back with us. I am grateful for assistance received here sorting out my own families military records, burial sites etc. and look forward to reading of other's successes, with the help of the Afrigeneas family.

Denise


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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