Tuesday, July 19, 2011

An American Hero

William Wheeler, a member of the famed WWII Tuskegee Airmen, passed away today.

A Detroit native, Col. Wheeler was a student at Howard University when he was selected for training at Tuskegee Air Field. After completing training, he flew the P-51 on bomber escort and ground attack missions before being grounded by a medical condition. Following the war, he moved to New York City, and was a resident of Hempstead for the past 47 years.

I've had the honor to meet and speak with Col. Wheeler many times over the past few years. He was a regular visitor to the American Airpower Museum, and was eager to tell the story of his fellow African-American airmen. He was a gentleman, and a gentle man - soft spoken, always with a big smile on his face, he really enjoyed speaking with people. One story he related to me really told of the challenges they faced. His brother-in-law was also a member of the group, and was shot down and captured by the Germans. Fearing for what the Germans might do to him, he was surprised to discover that they treated him in accordance to the Geneva Convention rules for a captured officer. As Col. Wheeler put it "The Germans treated him better than his own superior officers had..."

We lost another American Hero today.

Col. Wheeler (left) with Dr. Roscoe Brown.

Showing off his copy of the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to the Tuskegee Airmen in 2008.

The last time I spoke with him, Memorial Day weekend at the Airpower Museum.

Tuskegee Airmen Victor Terrelonge, Spann Watson, and William Wheeler. We've lost all three in the past year.