(Crystal A. Proxmire, Ferndale 115 News, March 15, 2012 ed.)
When Oakland County Commissioner Mattie Hatchett (D -10 , Pontiac) saw the movie Red Tails, it inspired her to learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen, the elite team of African American fighter pilots who flew special missions during World War II.
Hatchett did some research and found that many of the original Tuskegee Airmen are from the Metro Detroit Area. She then teamed up with Oakland County Commissioners Liaison Julia Ruffin to prepare a resolution in their honor and to host a reception for the heroes before the March 7, 2012 County Commission meeting.
Volunteers from the Tuskegee Airmen Museum sold tee shirts, books and other memorabilia while volunteers served a buffet-style meal and Veterans shared presentations about their experiences flying in the elite Tuskegee Airman squads.
“These men are about 90 years or older,” Hatchett said. “They did not get their Gold Congressional Medal of Honor until 2007. These men were fighting the Nazis and fighting racism at home, yet this did not sway them.”
She said that it was March 7, 1942 that the Tuskegee Airmen were first introduced into the US Army Corp. They had been recruited from all over the United States and “were the cream of the crop.”
The Tuskegee Airmen are best known for their aggressive air battles, however bombing missions and support on the ground was also part of the group’s success. “For every plane that flew, it took twelve people on the ground to make sure the places were taking care of. And that group – they made sure they knew those planes were theirs too,” Hachett said.
Richard Jennings, who served in a B25 Bomber Group said “I’ll admit the fighter pilots deserve more credit, but the bombing group were also fighting like hell against racism back in the states,” he said.
The Tuskegee Airmen had their roots in the 1930s. Chauncey Spencer wanted to become a pilot, but no one in his home state of Virginia would let a black man near a plane. He moved to Chicago where he was allowed to enroll in flying school. He and other black pilots formed the National Airmen Association of America, and on May 9, 1939 he and fellow NAAA member Dale L. White flew from Chicago to Washington DC to convince national leaders to allow racial integration into the armed forces, and to let black people fly in the Air Force. Then Senator Harry Truman took the cause to heart, and lobbied for their enlistment. He spent the rest of his military career working for integration, until finally in 1953 he was accused of disloyalty and being a communist. His son, Chauncey Spencer II, would later write “He was relieved of his position and his family suffered great humiliation and economic deprivation. In June 1954 the Air Force cleared him of all charges. Spencer and his family would never fully recover from this ordeal. Despite ill-treatment, he continued to maintain his belief in the goodness and strength of mankind and America until his death on August 21, 2002.” Spencer II was the President of the Central Region of Tuskegee Airmen from 2008-2010 and he was among those who presented information at the Oakland County event. He showed pictures of his father hanging out in Detroit with Joe Lewis, who was a family friend. His father was one of hundreds of African Americans and their allies who will be remembered for fighting for equality.
The video below is an interview with Chauncey Spencer:
Nearly a dozen of the DOTA – Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen – received plaques of recognition signed by all 25 members of the Oakland County Board of Commission. Hatchett was thrilled to be able to honor the heroes. “I’m just bubbling over with the fact that you’re here to appreciate this and to recognize what these men represent,” she said, giving special recognition to those who brought young people to the event. “This is not just about African American History, it’s about American History.”
Find out more about the Tuskegee Airmen at http://www.tuskegeeairmen.org/explore/chapters.aspx.
Note: Chauncey Spencer II is a past President of the Tuskegee Airmen Central Region. An earlier of this version listed him as the Vice President. We also changed “Jr” to “II” at Mr. Spencer’s request.