Last week the present met history during the Black history event at Enon Tabernacle Church where four members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen joined members of Enon’s Young Abrahams, a mentorship program for youth ages 7 – 9.
During the event, the highly celebrated Tuskegee airmen had a chance to meet to tell of their experiences in the armed forces at a time when the nation was divided along racial lines.
Despite segregation and harassment the airmen became famous for their bravery and achievements as World War II pilots.
“We were invited here by pastor Alyn [Waller] to discuss tidbits about some of our experiences and answer questions. When that type of call goes out, how do you say ‘no’?” said Major Bertram A. Levy, one of the Tuskegee pilots in attendance.
Levy, now 93, recalled the days of his youth in Philadelphia and walking down Broad street when he first heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. A lot has changed in America since that time.
“Change is fascinating and frightening. I have seen a tremendous change as opposed to what America and specifically Philadelphia was at the beginning of World War II,” said Levy.
“Without question, from what Philadelphia was like, what the Black population faced, was one step above slavery; jobs were almost impossible and if you got one you could hardly get two loaves of bread for what they gave you,” he said.
Some local businesses refused to hire Blacks even as dishwashers, said Levy.
“Since those days, things turned around so wonderfully and that’s when you begin to see us doing all kinds of jobs in all kinds of places.”
Levy said the war has had an affect on race relations.
“During WWII, and after, the respect that we earned, attitudes changed.”
Also with the Tuskegee Airman was Vince Mallory who said he joined the Tuskegee Airmen simply because he wanted to fly.
“I wasn’t for shooting anybody or advocating war. I just wanted to fly and that was the best way to do that, so that’s what I did,” said Mallory.
Fortunately, Mallory didn’t have to shoot anyone.
“I tell people that Hitler heard I was coming and decided shoot himself and end the war so I didn’t have to go but I’ve been flying every since,” joked Mallory.
Mallory recalled the story of a friend who said that when he returned from an overseas tour, walking down the gang plank on his return to the United States, he was met with a sign which read ‘Whites to the right and Negroes to the left”
“So from those days, we’ve come a long way.”
Asked if he ever thought he would see a Black president in his lifetime, Mallory said ‘No’ but that he thought President Obama was doing a good job considering both his obstacles as a Black man and as a Black president.
Rev. Waller welcomed the airman and said that the media often overlook the history of the Tuskegee Airmen when reporting the accomplishments of what broadcaster Tom Brokaw called ‘The Greatest Generation’.
“There was something drastically missing in his story and what was missing from his story was some of the real heroes of World War II. And, they came right out of our community,” said Waller.
Waller said it was important to have the members of the Young Abrahams present during the tribute.
“We wanted the Young Abrahams to make the connection that they are capable of doing this,” said Waller.
“They are of the same blood, and they are from the same community. And, the same way these men were great in the face of obstacles, they can be great as well,” he said.