Students, faculty and staff gathered in DPAC on Tuesday to learn about the “Tuskegee Experience,” the assemblage of the first African-American members of the Army Air Corps program in Tuskegee, Alabama during World War II.
Willie Shellman, president of the New England Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, introduced two World War II veterans who discussed their “Tuskegee experience” as airmen. The first speaker was George Hardy, Lt. Col. (Ret.) a 90-year-old veteran who fought in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Hardy flew 21 combat missions over Germany during World War II in a P-51 aircraft.
There are about 50 chapters of the Tuskegee Airman Chapter Inc. in the U.S. Their primary purpose is to “preserve the history and legacy of the brave men and women of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II,” according to Shellman.
He said their second purpose is to “inspire the young people that through education, through desire, through doing your best, that they too when they’re faced with their Tuskegee in their life, that they will be able to achieve their goals.”
After the presentation of a short documentary on the Tuskegee airmen, Hardy discussed his experience with racial integration in the new branch of the military: the Air Force. In 1947, the Army Air Corps became the Air Force, which was the first branch to be integrated only seven months into its creation. A year later, all other branches of the military followed suit.
Hardy explained there were several stages in the desegregation process. Many of the white servicemen still felt animosity toward their black compatriots. Hardy wasn’t spoken to and later was pulled out of a plane by a commander during the Korean War.
However, after many years, he no longer experienced racism in the military.
Lt. Col. Enoch Woodhouse spoke after Hardy, saying he wanted “to bring to life the transition from segregation, outward hostility, outward enmity for people of color.”
Woodhouse explained that jobs in the military were separated so that there were two types of jobs labeled “W” for white or “N” for “black or Negro.” Like Hardy, Woodhouse faced adversity in the years that followed integration, but eventually was accepted by those who once had animosity toward him.
Hardy ended with an anecdote about the same commander who pulled him out of the airplane during the Korean War. Years later, the two airmen worked together once again. When Hardy was having a drink after work, the commander came in and proudly announced that they fought in the Korean War together.
Hardy said, “Things change and, you know, it makes you feel good that people can change also.”