Tuskegee Airmen Honored In Staunton

By: Dave Byknish Email
By: Dave Byknish Email

Sometimes, Sergeant Harry Quinton gets emotional.

"I even tear up when people come over and congratulate you and people thank you," he said.

The reason for the gratitude is because he is one of roughly a thousand men that changed history for African-Americans.

Quinton and Chief Master Sergeant Grant Williams were Tuskegee Airmen; the first black men allowed to be military pilots.

A ceremony honoring their service took place in Staunton on Sunday afternoon.

"People of color hadn't been allowed to do anything that was productive enough for anybody to be so proud about," said Williams. He said most of the men were surprised when they got their appointment.

"We thought, to begin with, that our duty was going to be the regular military duty as we had seen other people perform."

The unscientific findings of a 1925 study of African-American servicemen was the catalyst for the Airmen being formed.

"Negroes, as we were called then," said Quinton, "were unable to handle complicated machines, that we could not follow orders, that we were cowards."

"So we were out to prove all those things untrue."

Even with those derogatory feelings abundant around them, the men felt that it was their duty to serve.

"My ancestors put 200 years of sweat and blood in this country,"{ said Quinton. "I was as much of an American as anybody else, even though we were treated as second class citizens."

When the war was over the men returned home, and went on with their lives. It took many years for them to realize the effect they had on the nation.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be getting this kind of reception," said Quinton.

Williams feels the same way about the ceremony.

"We weren't having this kind of thing then. And to think how it has grown."

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