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 Post subject: A Very Special Passenger
PostPosted: Wed Nov 18, 2009 7:13 pm 
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I was standing at the departure gate in Detroit last Saturday - Oh'dark early - looking at the weather radar online when I noticed a slightly built, older gentleman preparing to board. He was wearing a leather flight jacket and a Tuskegee Airman ballcap. I couldn't hold myself back.

I walked over and introduced myself. Lt. Colonel Alexander Jefferson introduced himself as he shook my hand with a grip that belied his years. Though I knew he had to be in his mid-eighties (actually 88), he looked and spoke like a man twenty years his junior. I thanked him for his service and told him what an honor it was to have him on board. True to the form of men of his character, he brushed aside any notion of being special - but I knew otherwise - and I would learn much more when I returned home and Googled his name.

As he boarded, the agent asked me what was so special about the gentleman. I gave the briefest of explanation about the Tuskegee Airmen and she kindly asked, "Would you like me to upgrade him to first class?"

When I walked down the jetbridge and handed the Colonel his new boarding pass, he let out with, "Holy Toledo!" He was genuinely touched.

I was able to chat briefly with Colonel Jefferson at DFW. He was on his way to Cape Canaveral to watch the launch of the space shuttle along with a group of his peers.

As I mentioned, I already knew he was a hero - fighting an enemy on two fronts - but I had no idea until I returned home. On his eighteenth mission, he was shot down and spent the last 9 months of the war as a POW of the Nazis.

Sometimes getting people from A to B has its special perks.

You might enjoy the short clip of the Colonel at the link below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAZucEsYvq4

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 18, 2009 7:48 pm 
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Outstanding!!!!! Several Tuskeegees live here in Arizona and I've had the pleasure of spending some time with them. Every one is an absolute gentleman. Dr Thurston Gaines has led an amazing life.

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 18, 2009 8:19 pm 
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Craig,

Thanks for the post ... must have made your day a "special' one ... as the day I met a 7 year Hanoi Hilton POW last month at the museum. ... Was really great that you were able to see him upgraded to First Class.

A while back I designed a "Tuskegee Airmen" tie and gave two to local veterans living in the Dayton Area ...

As an added note ... my first helicopter jaunt was in a "Chickasaw" .. over 50 years ago while at the Kooni-ni Range and therefore enjoyed your web as well. Thanks

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 19, 2009 1:22 am 
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when you watch the part of the clip where he talks about disembarking his reaction to being upgraded makes perfect sense. thanks for posting the link.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 19, 2009 4:29 am 
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I wish to met any of the airman from this famous unit :) Thank you for this story :)

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 19, 2009 6:45 am 
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Great, great post. Well done all around.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 19, 2009 8:23 am 
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Great story and thanks for making the effort to meet and then go out of your way to Honor him. Indeed quite a change from the "good ol' days", just wish "the village" would lift up men like him rather than rappers and sports superstars. HE (and his felllow airmen) is the real superstar, though I'm sure he would disagree and argue that the real hero's were left over there.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 19, 2009 8:39 am 
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Thanks for sharing. That was wonderful!

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 19, 2009 10:50 am 
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Thank you Craig,

I try to convey my thanks to all the veterans I meet and I appreciate you doing so in my absence!

It must have been a great honour to meet him. It's too bad you didn't know his whole story at the time of meeting him.

After watching that video, it seems like he really lived the WWII experience. Flying missions over Germany, being shot down, being taken prisoner, witnessing the atrocities of the holocaust... I can only imagine the disgust and confusion he must have felt seeing what he saw when he went to see "a whole lot of dead people."

Again, thank you for showing your appreciation of Mr. Jefferson with the short time that you had to do so. I'm sure all of us here on WIX thank you.

Cheers,

David


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 19, 2009 11:48 am 
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Group,

I went into the Army 1991, and while in transit from Basic to Tech school (Ft Rucker), I found Benjamin Davis Autobiography in an airport book store. So I bought it and spent the time enroute reading it, and completed reading it during tech school.

Several years later, while stationed at Edwards AFB (Army Flight Test, AQTD), I saw an article in the Army Times of a Tuskegee Airmen reunion at McClellan AFB. I called up and talked to the Museum Director and asked if Gen Davis would be there. He informed me Gen Davis was sick and would not be able to attend. I told him, I had a copy of his book and was hoping to get it autographed. The Director said I should call Gen Davis publicist, and gave me his phone number.

I called the Publicity and told him, I would like to send my book to have it Autographed by Gen Davis. The publicist said I should call Gen Davis, and ask him to sign my book. So in-between flights (I was an aircraft dispatcher), I called the General to ask him to sign my book. Once I started talking to Gen Davis, he spent about an hour talking to me about. I could not believe that the General would take time away from his day and spend an hour talking with someone he never met.

While I was talking with Gen Davis, I had several military Officers come up to ask questions about the flight schedule. I ask them to wait until I was finished speaking with the General. The next question was, why I did not get my Col to talk to the General. Once I was finished, I had to explain that I had called him, and not him calling me (I was the talk of the unit, temp).
I mailed my book to the General, and included $5 for return postage. About 2-3 weeks later, my book was returned autographed. Then about 2-3 days later, I received a letter from the General, with a $2 check for the excess postage. At the time I was only an E-4, and did not make much money. But I took the check and put in the autographed book, since it was worth more to me than any amount of money could buy.

Currently I have about 25-30 autographed Autobiographies in my collection. Only three of them stand out in my mind (Gen Davis, Gen Scott, and Scott Crossfield).

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 19, 2009 12:34 pm 
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Craig, that is a great story. I am a little surprised that any Tuskegee airman would not feel that they were special and were NOW treated that way. And I've noticed that most of these guys that I have met seem young for their real age.

It seems to me from various airshows and vets functions that I have seen that their group is pretty much honored and respected, second only perhaps to the Doolittle Raiders.

I wonder if the current group of non aviation oriented Black people know these men or know about them in the same way as they know of a pioneer sports figures like Jackie Robinson or early screen stars or medical or business people?

As for their race not being mentally competent enough to fly an airplane, who knows, one day they might even enter politics! I recall that the first woman pilot in the US was Black. And some White folks have proven that flying an airplane can be done even by some pretty foolish people.

I was born and grew up in Texas, when there were still racial barriers. One of the main things I recall was the store up on Katy highway at Piney Point, which was a Texaco service station as well as general store, had separate restroom facilities. One door said white men, one said colored, same for the women, four doors in all. Other terms like Black were not in use then, and people would think you'd been in the sun too long if you started talking about African Americans, much less people of color.. I was a bit curious and once snuck in the colored door just to see what it looked like. It was just like the restroom that we used, same facilities and kept as clean. Looking back, as a kid of perhaps 9 years old, I was slightly curious, but I did not think of the separate restrooms as being a big issue. In this one case at least, they were at least equal. Some places now have one restroom for both sexes, not gender specific. Will our kids one day look back to a long ago time when there were restrooms just for one gender?

We lived out in what was the country then, and had 21 acres with a rental house on it. A Black lady and her Son lived there. I don't know if she paid any rent or just traded work for the house. Her Son did lot's of chores, would cut the main part of the yard with the Gravely tractor, as well as often drive us 5 kids around, since my Dad was very busy at work. He and I often went up to the feed store on Katy Hwy,( now I-10) with the segregated restrooms to buy hay or blocks of ice. There was separation, but I never saw any direct act of cruelty of racisim until I got in basic training at Lackland. That still bothers me today. The Son was pehaps in his 20s and he did like to party. We almost lost him one Sat night when one of his girlfriends shot him in the side. Fortunatly it was only a .22 , but when he made it over to the other girlfriend's house for help and she found out about no. 1, she stabbed him in the other side. He survived and seemed to mend his ways. The Mom was as nice a lady as I ever knew and half raised me, like a part of our family. For me growing up there, was a lot of good times, a lot of football, and not many bad ones.

I found out in high school that when they collected our old textbooks, the ones missing pages or marked up too much, they give us new textbooks and sent the old ones to the minority schools. I knew that wasn't right. There are places now, in the most hard up schools where kids can't even take home textbooks.

I think we have come a long way on civil rights. Everyone may not have equal opportunity, but few condone outright acts of cruelty based on race.

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Last edited by Bill Greenwood on Thu Nov 19, 2009 1:46 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 19, 2009 12:40 pm 
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Now I am curious to know what what his personal Mustang?

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 08, 2009 11:01 pm 
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I sent a link to this thread to a friend of mine, Bob Griffin. Bob happens to be not only a super nice guy, but also an original Tuskegee Airman. Just a couple hours later, I saw him at our EAA chapter meeting. He read my message yet, so I related the above story... right off the bat Bob says "That sounds like Alexander Jefferson!" Well, guess what... Mr. Jefferson actually stayed at Bob's house during said visit! The Tuskegee Airmen group took a group of kids with them to the shuttle launch, who got there by writing essays... and according to Bob, who teaches at youth aviation summer programs each year, some of the kids were the smartest ones he's ever met. He also said that NASA treated them like royalty during their visit and they even got to go out to the pad to see a fueled-up shuttle at sunset, and got the rare treat of seeing the hydrogen burn-off flares, and got to see the launch from the VIP area. Neat stuff!

Aviation is often a very small world, but it was really neat to see it come "full circle" on this one (at least from my perspective). Really, what are the odds?!

-Mike


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 08, 2009 11:24 pm 
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That's a really great video. I met Col. Jefferson at the Reno Air Races in 2008 when he was one of the Grand Marshals (that's him driving)

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Here is an interview I did with another Tuskegee Airman - Les Williams

http://evanflys.com/captain_les_williams

It was one of my first big interviews!

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 11, 2009 12:35 pm 
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Too bad we can't "restore" the men like we can the birds. While I love the aircraft, the men who flew them are of far more interest.
Chuck

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