HORSHAM, Pa. (CBS) — The Tuskegee Airmen were praised during World War II for protecting the pilots who were performing bombing missions. And in fact, they never lost a bomber.
Several original Tuskegee Airmen are from right here in the Delaware Valley.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators in the U.S. Armed Forces. They were fighting two wars at once: World War II, and against Jim Crow laws here on the homefront.
Sue Levy-Giles and her sister Stacia are both proud daughters of an original Tuskegee Airman, Maj. Bertram A. Levy. He passed in 2020, the day before Veterans Day.
“He volunteered for over a year before he was able to be accepted, and each rejection letter would state that they were not accepting Negro candidates,” Levy-Giles said.
Levy didn’t take no for an answer, and eventually trained as a pilot at Tuskegee Institute.
“It was a responsibility he had to fight for the United States and the promises it held for all, including African Americans, who, at the time, didn’t have full access to the American Dream,” Levy-Giles said.
While Levy never deployed, he played a pivotal role in training the pilots who did protect the aircraft during bombing missions. And he continued to be a freedom fighter here in Philadelphia, calling out the hypocrisy of segregation.
In 2007, along with his fellow Tuskegee Airmen, Levy was awarded the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal.
“The reason they gave it to us was outstanding combat record,” said Eugene Richardson Jr., 97.
Richardson is also a Tuskegee Airman. He served as a fighter pilot.
“When they saw how good our guys were, they then asked our guys to protect the white boys and the bombers,” he said.
Nathan Thomas served in operations for the Airmen. He recalls thinking fighting on the forefront would spark social change.
“I thought things were going to change, no change,” Thomas said.
Both are proud members of the Greater Philadelphia Tuskegee Airmen chapter. Bertram Levy was a founding member.
There’s now an exhibit, which opened this past June in Horsham.
“I feel good being part of a group that helped change our nation and make it a better nation,” Richardson said.
They leave a legacy of resilience, a message and mission that still rings true today: freedom is for all.