|Freedom... prevailed? Jesse Rutledge, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, attacked by four blacks in 90 percent black Detroit... as the city has lost its freedom to the state of Michigan|
Today, while reading this story from The Detroit News, I found myself asking the same question [Four teens charged in Detroit carjacking of 88-year-old Tuskegee airman, 3-4-13]:
As he stared down the barrel of a nickel-plated pistol wielded by a teenaged gunman demanding the keys to his Jeep, Jesse Rutledge said an odd thought entered his mind:
"I'm thinking, 'This kid is so little; how's he going to see over the steering wheel?'" said the 88-year-old former Tuskegee Airman who flew bombing missions over Japan in World War II.
That initial thought was replaced by fear, said Rutledge, who was carjacked by four youths as he left a barber shop near Harper and Van Dyke at about 4 p.m. Saturday.
"Yeah, I was scared." Rutledge, a former gunner on a B-25 bomber, shook his head. "I'm 80-something years old and I still got to fight out here."
Police arrested the alleged robbers — ages 13, 14, 15 and 16 — the next day.
"They were charged as juveniles with carjacking," said Maria Miller, spokeswoman for Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. "As juveniles, the court has the option of retaining jurisdiction on them until they are 21 if they are convicted."
A $75,000 bond was set for the gunman and $50,000 bonds were set for his accomplices. All four are scheduled to appear in court on March 20.
The day of the incident started out like many Saturdays for Rutledge: He drove his 1999 Jeep Cherokee to the Sportzone Barber Shop not far from his home.
"I like to go down and see my buddies in the barber shop, and watch TV for awhile," he said. "I left the shop and was walking toward my Jeep, when these kids came out of this abandoned house and walked straight toward me like they know me or something.
"The littlest one had the gun and he did all the talking. He said, 'Give me your keys.' I was slow getting the keys and this kid racks his gun and tells me, 'You don't think I'll shoot you, do you (expletive)?' Where would someone that young get a gun like that?"
Rutledge, an Alabama native who heard the same racial epithet many times growing up in the Deep South and while serving in the military, said it was disconcerting to have an African-American youth call him that while leveling a pistol at him.
"I don't know what's wrong with these kids," he said. "When I was that age, I was working a mule, plowing fields. These kids have no home-training, I guess."So four black kids in Detroit dared jump a member of the vaunted Tuskegee Airmen, in a city a member of the same black tribe of aerial warriors helped destroy when he was elected the first black mayor in 1973?
And his four black attackers called him a 'n-i-g-g-e-r' too...
Never mind that this man was attacked and called a racial epithet by his black assailants in a city that is 90 percent black (that's what we call an example of Freedom Failed); what matters is the media immediately making a huge deal that Jesse Rutledge was a Tuskegee Airmen.
The almost exclusively white members of the Army, Navy, Army Air Force, and Marines who actually did the fighting and dying in World War II - be it against Japan or Germany - are of little importance anymore; all that matters is when a member of the Tuskegee Airmen passes away, a national moment of silence must occur.
It's immediately newsworthy, and an occasion, a solemn reminder actually, and a chance to reflect on these great black aerial warriors who won World War II for America, and for white people to reflect on the racism of the Greatest Generation for ensuring that a segregated unit of black pilots would have the chance to succeed.
After all, few black pilots - outside of Denzel Washington in Flight - succeed today. Isn't the story of the Tuskegee Airmen just a celebration of segregation, since after integration the Air Force, Navy, and Army have had less than two percent of their pilots be black?
Wait -- too much logic. Remember, the Tuskegee Airmen won World War II for the Allied Forces.
At least, that's how Danny Westneat makes in sound [Time takes toll on Tuskegee Airmen, Seattle Times, 1-13-13]:
It’s Tommie Lamb’s crunchtime. The calls keep coming. It’s like this in the weeks just before Black History Month.
“We weren’t keeping up with the demand,” Lamb says, “and that was before all the recent losses.”
Lamb is the president of the hottest group of octogenarians around — the local chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen. Since the country elected a black president in 2008, the triumphant story of the military’s first African-American pilots — the fighters their own country didn’t want — has been told on the news, in documentaries and, last year, in a movie by George Lucas of Star Wars fame.
Nearly 70 years after World War II, the Airmen got famous. They had become symbols of racial perseverance. And also of how far we’ve come.
So Lamb’s phone rings.
“High schools, Rotary clubs, churches, air shows — they all want to hear the stories,” says Lamb (who was not a Tuskegee Airman himself).
Only there’s one big unsolvable problem.
“I tell them there are no Tuskegee Airmen left that can come speak to their group,” Lamb says. “There’s silence on the other end of the line. Everybody wants an original Tuskegee.”
In the past eight months, three Seattle-area Airmen have died. That means of the original local contingent of about 30, there are only two known living Airmen left in the region.
One, a former Boeing engineer and Tuskegee gunner named Bill Booker, 90, of Kirkland, is ill in a nursing home.
The other is Ed Drummond Jr., 86, of Lakewood. He was one of the last pilots to graduate from the elite black aviators program in Alabama, at the age of 19. (There may be others who prefer to stay private, Lamb said. There are fewer than a hundred pilots left nationwide.)
“All the attention we’ve gotten these past few years has been gratifying,” Drummond said Friday from his home. “But I do regret that so many who endured so much weren’t around to hear it.”
Drummond fulfills some of the many speaking requests, but said, “It’s too much for one person. I’m not a young man anymore!”
The most recent to pass on was Perry Thomas, 88, of Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood. He died in December and will be honored this Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field.
Seattle’s George Hickman died in August, also at 88. Pilot George Miller, 86, passed away in Lakewood in May.
So it’s going with the entire Greatest Generation. It won’t be with us much longer.
I got to interview four of the Airmen a few years back, and was floored by their total lack of bitterness. These guys were told they were too stupid to operate complex machinery. After they did it anyway, with distinction, when they returned home their own country often treated them worse than German prisoners.
Yet they had all pushed on to have happy lives and careers, many at Boeing. Hickman said this was their greatest achievement: how they persisted.
Lamb said the local organization is struggling to persist, too. Even after the Airmen are gone, the goal is to keep telling their stories.
But with each death, some of it is lost, probably forever.
“Years ago we’d have a dozen of them together, and once we got a few drinks in them, man, the stories they’d tell would blister your ears,” he said. “I doubt half those stories were even true.
“I’ve always wished I’d had a tape recorder with me.”
A man honored as a Tuskegee Airmen who flew missions during World War II admitted that he fabricated his story.
"I don't know why I did it," John Carter Sr. told The Courier-Journal after being questioned about the claims he made during a Memorial ceremony. "Just strike everything I said."
In a speech during the May 25 ceremony, Carted said he was among the 1,000 blacks trained separately from white pilots during World War II at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama.
He said the airmen sometimes felt they were fighting two enemies: the Germans and white Americans "who didn't do anything to support us." Carter also said he flew 46 missions over France, Italy, and Belgium."
"We felt we had no reason to question his credentials," George Lee, chairman of the local NAACP's armed services committee said, adding that he had met Carter at a previous event where he was introduced as a Tuskegee Airmen.