SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich. --
With jazz music lulling in the background, the din of conversation grew louder as the room of the 127th Wing’s dining facility filled with people. While Airmen moved briskly about greeting guests and securing last-minute details, uniformed servicemembers representing all branches of the military and the Department of Homeland Security, community leaders and civilian guests found their seats.
But the heroes donning turquoise-blazers, gentlemen who served our nation during a bygone era here at Selfridge and overseas, and persist to tell the amazing tale of the “Tuskegee Airmen,” were the guests of honor during the 127th Wing’s “Moments in Black History,” event held on base Tuesday.
“I look around this room and see a lot of distinguished visitors, but most importantly, our wonderful Tuskegee Airmen: Welcome back to Selfridge,” said Brig. Gen. John D. Slocum, commanding officer of the 127th Wing, the base and host of Tuesday’s event.
"I look around this room and see a lot of distinguished visitors, but most importantly, our wonderful Tuskegee Airmen. Welcome back to Selfridge.Brig. Gen. John D. Slocum
Slocum said during his short tenure at Selfridge, he’s developed a deep appreciation for the Tuskegee Airmen’s service to their country and a sense of pride for the historical connection between the group’s service and their residence here at Selfridge.
“Whenever I hear the last [line of the National Anthem], ‘Oh say does that star-spangled banner wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave,’ there’s always a phrase that pops in my head right then…, ‘You’re damn straight it does,’” Slocum said, telling the Tuskegee Airmen they’ve contributed significantly to America’s continued freedom.
The event, organized by members of the 127th Wing’s diversity council, hosted two documented original Tuskegee Airmen, Harry Stewart, retired lieutenant colonel and Frederick Henry, both of Detroit. To further honor the famous aviators, the event also unveiled the renaming of Birch Street here to “Tuskegee Airmen Way.”
A video played at the program’s opening, allowing Stewart and Alexander Jefferson, also a retired lieutenant colonel, to briefly recount their experiences during World War II.
Stewart flew 43 bomber escort-missions, escorting B-17’s and B-24’s and continues to serve as a member of the Detroit chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Association, an organization conceived in Jefferson’s basement.
“I only got 18 missions and on my 19th mission, strafing radar stations on the coast of Southern France, I ran into some ground fire and had to pull up and bail out,” recounted Jefferson, of an emergency ejection. Apprehended by German soldiers, Jefferson was held captive as a POW for nine months before returning to the U.S. and to duty as an Air Force Reserve officer here, where he served the duration of his career.
“I came back home to Detroit, wanted to fly for the domestic airlines,” remembers Jefferson. “Heck no!”
Jefferson said there were no openings available for African-American pilots at neither United Airlines nor Spirit Airlines until he was 40 years old and too old to qualify as a pilot.
"Somebody had to do it, we rose to the occasion."Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson
“We’re still kicking, not too high, but heck, there’s an old saying,” Jefferson said as Stewart chuckled and patted him on the back. “Somebody had to do it, we rose to the occasion.” Jefferson said, looking to Stewart with a smile.
“Still trying to do it with the help of a cane, but we’re still kicking,” said Jefferson.