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Sunday, December 09, 2018

Wilfred DeFour, who served with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, was found dead Saturday in New York. He was 100. New York police said officers responded to a 911 call to a residence in Harlem and found a man identified as DeFour unconscious and unresponsive.

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"I regret so many of my comrades are no longer here with us," DeFour said, according to WABC. "It will mean there's recognition for Tuskegee Airmen and that's very important."

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RIP Wilfred. My father was a Tuskegee Airmen who died at 86 in 2004. For a year he was president of the Indianapolis chapter of the Airmen and helped host the national convention here in during his term. He asked me to write his opening speech which I later heard was received very well. It was absolutely amazing what the later acknowledgement and celebrity of these men (and the women like my mother who moved along with him to Alabama during his training and posting) meant to these sons of a then segregated Army Air Corp. I only wish he'd have lived long enough to see the election of Obama in 2008 since that meant he would have been hosted at the inauguration along with the-then living members who were among the honored guests that day. For men willing to fight and die for a country who systemically treated them less than equal to many they protected, they were all heroes as much as anyone doing the same for the nation they love.

#1 | Posted by tonyroma at 2018-12-09 09:19 AM | Reply | Newsworthy 6

Very well said, Tony.

#2 | Posted by PinchALoaf at 2018-12-09 09:22 AM | Reply

I had the great honor to meet a Tuskeegee Airman in Dania Beach, Florida. They were true American heroes. That's amazing that your Dad was one of them Tony, explains much about you.

#3 | Posted by danni at 2018-12-09 10:49 AM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

My dad never really talked all that much about his time as an Airman as I was growing up in the 60s and 70's. The country's mood was still tumultuous as the Vietnam and civil rights/race relations controversies were incendiary all over the place. At the time I didn't realize how symbolic it was that Bobby Kennedy was in Indianapolis on the evening of Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968, and where he gave his famous speech. While many cities burned that evening in massive protests, Indy stayed calm as blacks and whites mourned the tragedy together. The statue in the park where Kennedy spoke memorializes that evening and continues to move me whenever I get the chance to see it again as the shadows of their outstretched hands move toward each as the sun's angle changes symbolizing our continuing struggle to join as one people and one nation, undivided.

The point there was that these men only did their duty, but they understood the mission beyond the needs of America's military goals in winning WWII. The Tuskegee Airmen were an experiment to prove the inferiority of black men in not possessing the requisite intelligence nor skills to succeed as pilots and flight crews (do not forget that blacks comprised most of the front-line support staff as well), not to create legends and heroes out of them. With their unquestioned success in Europe, it made it far easier for President Truman to integrate the entire military quickly after WWII ended.

As the decades passed and the story of the Airmen became an open and more famous topic, it was amazing how the contemporary generations adorated and celebrated these men far beyond what they would have ever dreamed of as young men merely seeking to serve and defend their country. So many people would approach my dad to hear his stories. Schools called to give him honors and let their students interact with him and the other Airmen who lived locally. Museums borrowed memorabilia for dedicated displays, and thousands attended Tuskegee Airmen clubs and conventions throughout the nation. They've been feted at the Air Force Academy and received honors from Presidents, governors and mayors. It was amazing and he quietly loved every minute of it.

So for all the sleights America may have thrown their way, the outpouring of respect, honor and love was appreciated more than most might think. The placement of this thread is emblematic of how times have changed, and yes, it does matter. So thanks to all for remembering men like my father and Wilfred DeFour. They were indeed American-made heroes and patriots in the finest tradition of our storied history.

#4 | Posted by tonyroma at 2018-12-09 05:25 PM | Reply | Newsworthy 2

Tony I hope you have all this written down to pass along to future generations. Nothing tells history like this.

#5 | Posted by gracieamazed at 2018-12-09 08:53 PM | Reply

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