They number among the Greatest Generation. But the color of their skin made their travails even tougher, their triumphs even greater. And every year, the ranks of the Tuskegee Airmen get a little bit thinner.
On June 16, four surviving members of the all-black Air Force squadron that served with heroic distinction in World War II journeyed to Albany to be honored by the state Legislature on the 75th anniversary of the founding of the highly decorated unit.
Audley Coulhurst, William Johnson, Wilfred DeFour and Herbert C. Thorpe were lauded both as courageous soldiers and civil rights pioneers whose deeds paved the way for President Truman’s 1948 order to integrate the U.S. military — and helped inspire the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
The airmen posed for pictures and held brief meetings with dozens of lawmakers, including Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., and won standing ovations in both the state Senate and Assembly, which passed a resolution hailing the “brave men who defied racist stereotypes and proved their mettle in hundreds of combat missions.”
Said 90-year-old William Johnson, a Glen Cove resident, “This is the America of my dreams, a place where we can all be appreciated for what we did in fighting racism and bigotry.”
- reporting by Douglas Feiden