Tuskegee Airman recalls time in historic unit

Julia LeDoux
February 24, 2019 - 2:00 pm

Smithsonian Institution

The story of William T. Fauntroy, Jr., and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen is one of resilience, pride and selfless service.

“The legacy, I think, is those men who had fought overseas came back to teach us what they had done,” the 96-year old told Connecting Vets.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the United States armed forces, going to battle during World War II on behalf of a nation that was rooted in Jim Crow laws and serving in a military that was segregated. Before 1940, African-Americans were prohibited from flying in the U.S. military but with war imminent, training was offered to African-Americans as pilots at an air base at Tuskegee, Alabama. 

The Tuskegee Airmen went on to serve with the 99th Fighter Squadron and later with the 332nd Fighter Group in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy during World War II.

 

Library of Congress

Fauntroy grew up in DC. His first job was at the U.S. Patent Office as a copy puller. He was eventually promoted to the position of library assistant in the in USPO’s Scientific Library. Drawn by a sense of patriotism, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Camp Lee in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on May 16, 1944, attending basic training at Camp Keesler, Mississippi. After finishing basic training and some additional testing, he qualified for and was assigned to Tuskegee Army Air Field as a pre-aviation cadet in July of 1944.

U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash

“The men that I met became friends for life,” he said. “They made me want to be like them.”

Men like Miles Washington and Jim Bryson.

“They made me want to do something like they had done,” he said.

Put in a Class 45-1 for instruction as a single-engine pilot, Fauntroy was scheduled for 10-weeks of pre-flight training, 10 weeks of primary flying, 10 weeks of basic flying and 10 weeks of advanced flying. Even though he didn’t complete training due to the war’s ending, Fauntroy fondly recalled the instructors who worked to give him his wings.

“Captain Jackson flew bigger planes, the AT-6, and shot down Germans three times, but came back to teach a little turkey like me,” he said. 

Fauntroy and his fellow surviving Tuskegee Airmen are now into their 80s and 90s. They experienced not only the pain of segregation but the freedoms that came in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement.

Following his discharge from the Army, Fauntroy earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering from Howard University. 

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