Original Tuskegee Airman, Mr. LeRoy E. Eley Sr., is nothing short of amazing!
Born May 30, 1927 and the baby of the bunch at almost 83 years young, Mr. Eley is EVERYTHING you would expect a Tuskegee Airman to be — distinguished, proud and fast on his feet!:-) He is disarmingly charming and witty, and easily captivated the attention of some 60+ 4th grade students, teachers, parents and genea-guests.
For every 1 question answered — 10 more hands flew up! I was floored by Mr. Eley’s ability to recount even the most minute historical detail and surprised that right along with the students, I too received an [unexpected] history lesson! I’d never heard of the Red Tail Pilots!
Those blessed to be in the room were provided an insiders view of history, complete with stories and memories that only he and his elite Fraternity of Tuskegee Airmen Brothers can truly recount.
To Justis’ question of which was more challenging — fighting in the war or enduring racism in the military, he responded honestly — BOTH. Mr. Eley shared how when the servicemen traveled abroad to fight, they remained segregated — unable to fight together even in the face of a common enemy!
When asked by a young lady to describe the feeling of flying a plane, Mr. Eley just smiled, responding there was nothing in the world like it!
Indeed, aviation is Mr. Eley’s passion. Since volunteering for the USAAF at the age of 17 (assigned to Class 46-D at Tuskegee AAF) until his retirement in 1990 from the Federal Aviation Administration, Mr. Eley vested his entire professional career doing what he loved most — flying airplanes. He even shared with me that at age 79 years, he earned his Seaplane Rating from the FAA!
When asked to explain how the Tuskegee Airmen were trained, Mr. Eley provided detail after detail — proving that earning the right to be Tuskegee Airmen was no easy task! They were the BEST of the BEST!
I loved looking at the image of the Tuskegee Flight Instructors (a picture I’ve admired many times) and hearing Mr. Eley say pointing, “Archie Smith taught me everything I know about flying” and “Charlie Smallwood taught me how to fly in weather”.
The kids got a kick knowing that Mr. Eley had been friends with Charles “Chief” Anderson, the Airman who flew First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt when she visited the Tuskegee Army Air Field in 1941. They did not want to let go of the Congressional Medal of Honor the Tuskegee Airmen were awarded in 2007 by President Bush and Congress!
Mr. Eley’s instruction to the young people landed like words of wisdom from a caring Grandfather. He continued to encourage the students to see life for what it is — an open field of opportunity. He challenged them to become tomorrow’s community leaders, charged with protecting the civil liberties so many of our Ancestors have fought and died for.
In a word, the young people felt EMPOWERED and I nothing but pride. My shoulders were a bit higher, knowing that I share ancestry with African-American men of this caliber. I was puffed-up, learning firsthand about the men who represented us both then and now. I was grateful Justis had the opportunity to be in his presence to benefit from this personal sharing of World War II history.
The plan is to rise early Saturday morning — Justis has been invited by the Atlanta Chapter President, Master Sgt. Floyd Stanfield, to attend the monthly gathering of Tuskegee Airmen! He tells us, “they all will be there!”. Who could pass up such an invitation?
As a single Mother of a black male child, I need him to see these great men. I need him dreaming of one day becoming a part of such a distinguished Fraternity of Life Brothers. He must always understand his accountability to community, family and the Ancestors who came before him.
The Tuskegee Airmen served — and continue to serve — with honor. Their presence and legacy remind us of the stock we descend from and inspire us to continue to reach higher.
Mr. Eley did this Mother’s heart a TON of good! He joked with me that I was “lucky” to get the Airmen rallied in less than 2 weeks time, given their demanding public schedules.
Nope Mr. Eley, today was no luck ~ it was all just pure blessing.