Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Tuskegee Airmen

Events like this one are good:

400 to 0

New York Sun Editorial
March 2, 2006

That was the vote in the House of Representatives Tuesday night in favor of Rep. Charles Rangel's bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Tuskegee Airmen. In a body known for its partisanship, it was a remarkable expression of national unity and consensus. As Mr. Rangel notes, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld - who Mr. Rangel has urged be impeached - released a letter urging members of Congress to support the initiative. "I don't agree with Secretary Rumsfeld on too many things. But when it comes to the Tuskegee Airmen we stand shoulder to shoulder," Mr. Rangel, a Democrat who represents Harlem, said in a press release.


Today it's right and just to remember the sacrifices and efforts of those men, the Tuskegee Airmen, who served a country that called them niggers. I take nothing from their service.

I have a bad taste in my mouth about one particular Tuskegee Airman, though. I can never hear about this organization without my mind racing back to that day in the early-to-mid-1990's, when I used to be a volunteer docent at the Western Aerospace Museum at the Oakland, California airport. One weekend the museum had an event that honored the Tuskegee Airmen, and I considered it an honor to get to sit and talk to some of those men. One said something so vile to me that I've never forgotten it. I'll paraphrase most of it, but that which is in boldface is his exact quote.

I didn't want to go to Europe. Germany didn't attack us. We shouldn't have been fighting there. Christians fighting Christians over Jews.

I've long since forgotten that man's name. I wonder if he's ever recognized the irony of his own bigotry.

I haven't let him color my view of the Tuskegee Airmen as a whole, of course. But my memory of this man serves as a reminder that they were not demi-gods but were men, with all the imperfections that come with that title.

The Greatest Generation, as Tom Brokaw called the Depression/WWII generation, wasn't perfect. They suffered greatly and fought for a just cause, but they didn't do it with halos above their heads. Sometimes I need to be reminded of that, I guess. But I wish it wasn't this one man who reminds me of it.

7 comments:

Lillian said...

One of my first cousins (once removed) was an original Tuskeegee Airman. He hates the name Tuskeegee Airman, and I doubt if he is the one you have the unpleasant memory of, although he is very bitter. He is now 87 years old, and he only refers to the experience by the numeric name of that courageous squadron of pilots.
My cousin,Walter Foreman is still alive, but he refuses to sign autographs, make appearances, or offer that he was one of the famous pilots who flew a plane during that intense action in that War.
He flew in each of the missions, but he doesn't want to talk about it. He says it was the most horrible part of his life and he wants to forget about it. He has told me that he deeply resents these 'young bucks' who act as if they were up there flying, and that they are simply capitalizing on the name and the fame, when they didn't do s--t!! He hates the name, but he hates the fact that anyone uses that name. We don't talk about it, at all.
He is quite blunt, and he has never taken advantage of the icon image.
His mother and my father were first cousins. He grew up on the Tuskeegee campus where his mother, the brilliant Madeline Foreman, was one of the first Biology/Chemistry professors of her gender at Tuskeegee. He grew up walking to his classes each day while greeting Dr. George Washington Carver as he passed by his lab. Walter has an incredible brilliance and wit, and he is still as sharp as a tack.
Later in his life, he was one of the telephone operators answering calls during the Psychic Network days...among other careers.
But he will not, himself a Tuskeegee Airman, although he is one of the last original pilots living in America from that highly commercialized bit of Black History. His younger brother, Charles, was a flight instructor at Tuskeegee, but he did not see any action during the WAR. They both had their own planes for years.
I'm pretty sure that Cousin Walter is NOT the bitter and caustic gentleman that you heard speak that day.
Rather, he is the bitter and caustic gentleman, who refuses to talk to anyone about this not-so-glamorous experience.
The lesson learned...if a Tuskeegee Airman is making appearances and signing autographs, then he's probably not the real deal.

And now you know the REST of the story...

Darren said...

He had one of those official unit pictures, in which the unit was identified on a signboard in the picture, and even 50 years later he was easy to identify in the picture.

What I don't understand, Lillian, is why your relatives are so bitter. What did I miss?

Lillian said...

I think it's just the WAR experience itself, and how some people handled it. You can come out of something having learned a great lesson, or you can come out of something cursing God. It's just that simple.
You and I just happened to come in contact with those that were scarred, or who can't get past the pain.
I have several ex-patriates in my family (Italy, Russia, the Carribean). They left the country because of the discrimination and the racism. Other men of color, especially the older brilliant ones, who remained in the United States, experienced more of the same prejudice after the WAR, for many more years, and they can't see it as being better now. They're stuck in the past, because they ARE the past.
I'm sure anyone who has been in a WAR - black or white - has the same challenges.
It's just that for some of these old guys, there were two WARS going on, and they were fighting in both of them.

Darren said...

There's another issue here, and that's the well-known anti-Semitism in the black community. It's something I don't understand.

Lillian said...

I'm not sure if anti-Semitism is specific to the black community. I think all kinds of people might fall into that, but I would say that many Christians may have a struggle with anti-semitism, even though Judaism is the source of their belief in the One True and Living G-d, and Jesus/Yeshua is a Jewish Messiah.
My paternal grandmother is the daughter of a Northern European Jewess and a Virginian Indian (Pumunkey tribe) who met her in Glasgow, and brought her back to Virginia.
The result of this marriage was my father's mother, and she grew up and married a mulatto Baptist minister and blended into the colored Virginian community of the 1800's. I have photos of her and my great-grandparents, a very exotic looking couple.
People thought she was a very light skinned colored woman, and you really couldn't tell Indians and African descendants apart, in the State of Virginia.
Many Jews blended into colored communities beginning in the mid-1800's for decades.
My dad - a minister - always referred to himself as a Judeo-Christian, a Jew who believes in the Messiah Jesus or Yeshua. That was before the term 'Messianic Jew' was used, as it is now in over 600 Messianic synagogues in the U.S. Many of my relatives are practicing Jews, and are not very afro-centric or even Messianic. I'm the only one in the family who considers Jesus/Yeshua to be the Messiah.
Many people of all ethnicities have Jewish ancestry, and so did Hitler, who called himself a Christian, and displayed a huge Bible on his desk.
I've had people - mostly black - ask me why I would want to refer to myself as a Messianic Jew, rather than a Christian. I tell them that I acknowledge all that I am, since I am a biological Jew, as well as the other things that I'm blessed to be able to identify in my heritage - African from Madagascar, British, and American Indian...the true American mix.
People say to me, 'Funny, you don't look Jewish!'
I've always thought that anyone who calls themselves a True Believer in G-d and His Son, it's because they must have a Jewish ancestor somewhere, since The L-rd said that HE would bless the nations through the Seed of Abraham.
If someone is anti-Semetic, it's probably because they are NOT really a True Believer. How can they hate their Jewish L-rd and Savior?
That's just the way I look at it, Darren. It's just another battle within the spiritual warfare that goes on in every principality of the world. You can't be a Believer and be anti-Semetic, no matter how much you sing, shout, and praise G-d on Sabbaths.

Medina pHresh said...

Lillian, we are related. Madeline Foreman was the sister of my Great Grandfather. We called him 'Skippy', however he passed before I was born. :)

MLeonard said...

Lillian, we are also related. Charles Foreman in my great grandfather. I miss him dearly. I hope you and the kids are doing well. - M.Leonard