By Thaddeus Govan Jr.
ABOVE PHOTO: Dr. Eugene Richardson makes a point, while his colleague John Harrison listens attentively. Maj. Javin Peterson looks on in the background.
(Photo by Thaddeus Govan Jr.)
When I was about five years old, as most young boys do, I constantly dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot in the Air Force, and I loved to see the exploits of remarkable young men who played the part of pilots in movies.
Of course, none of those whom I emulated had any resemblance to me. The plethora of men that I looked up to in that vast horizon of sky and screen were Caucasian. It never even occurred to me that this was a factual anomaly. It just was another case of a child’s looking to an older person as “hero worship.”
Of course, coming of age in the early ’50’s and late ’60’s, this blind admiration of the military exploits of daring men in the 1940s during WW II gave way to the burgeoning anti-war sentiment that swept through the nation a few years later. All of this was to play out against the background of the civil rights and Black Power movements, which would overcome all of us young men and women of color.
We never even knew about any black Pilots. Viet Nam was a fact that we wanted little part of, and the military was viewed as the actual enemy, and not the Viet Namese. My dreams of becoming a fighter pilot seemed nothing more than childish fantasy.
The truth was that there had been Black fighter pilots ever since 1941. These are the men who were recently celebrated at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, with a documentary film explaining the toils and hardship of becoming a fighter pilot during the height of racism and discrimination.
At the time, the Tuskegee Airmen, which was what this group was called, faced horrifying challenges. They endured, and thrived to become one of the most highly decorated fighting groups in the Army Air Corps, which was the precursor of today’s Air Force.
I only wish that I had known about these guys when I was five.
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