BY JAMES HARPER, DAYTONA TIMES: Three examples of perseverance landed in Daytona Beach Tuesday to speak during the Rise Above Red Tail Squadron Traveling Exhibit.
Pilots Charles “Doc” Holiday, Daniel Keel and Hiram E. Mann are Tuskegee Airmen and were guests at the exhibit. They signed autographs and answered questions from hundreds who showed up at Daisy Stocking Park during the three-day event.
Daytona Beach Mayor Glenn Ritchey presented the men with keys from the city which Ritchey said they could put with the Congressional Medals of Honor they received from President George Bush in 2006.
“It was 65 years late, but at least we got it,” said Tuskegee Airman Mann, 91, about receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor from Bush.
Great role models
The Airmen were also invited to the White House by President Barack Obama to witness his inauguration in 2008.
Ritchey said the men are great role models and inspiration for the youth of today.
“They persevered. They’ve distinguished themselves in many ways.Their message of stick to-it-ness is what the kids need to hear today. They followed through (on their dreams). They were not fighting for milk and honey,” Ritchey said.
Also attending the exhibition was Daytona Beach Resident Charles Bailey Jr., the son of Charles Bailey Sr., who also lived in the area.
Bailey Sr., who died at 82 in 2001, was the first Black aviator from Florida to become a Tuskegee Airman. He is credited with shooting down two Focke-Wulf-190 German fighter planes in “Josephine,” a P-40 War hawk named for his mother, and later in “My Buddy,” a P-51 Mustang named for his dad.
Bailey Jr. said it was because of money given to his father by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune that enabled his father to attend Tuskegee Institute in Alabama to become a pilot.
“When he got out of the service he never flew again. He said to do the job it required 100 percent of your time and concentration,” Bailey Jr. said adding his father went on to teach and eventually opened up a funeral home in DeLand.
Bailey Jr. also said it was Bethune who introduced his mom Bessie Finch, who was her secretary, to her dad.
Keel said as a child he remembered going to the movies and seeing news reels about pilots and the first thing he remembered thinking was “that was a quick way to get yourself killed,” he said with a laugh.
But then Keel recalled saying to himself, “I thought if anybody can drive a car they could fly an airplane. Boy, was I wrong.”
Keel said another motivating factor for him becoming a pilot was “50 percent more pay, good food and clean clothes.”
All in all, Keel said he has no regrets joining the service even though like so many other Blacks who returned to the states from Europe, he still had to face discrimination and segregation.
‘Thrill of my life’
Charles Holiday, 93, said that beginning when he was 6 years old all he wanted to do was fly in an airplane.
“It was the thrill of my life. Now we’re in a period of prosperity. There is no incentive for the young people of today to join the service,” Holiday said, adding he wished more Blacks would consider a career in aviation “because it is a wonderful opportunity and a challenge.”
Hiram Mann said the Tuskegee pilots are not the only people who should be remembered for their bravery.
“Anyone , Black or White, male or female, military or civilian that served at least one day on Tuskegee Air Force or with any unit attached to us between 1941 to 1949 are also heroes, Mann remarked.
“We were instrumental in doing away with discrimination in the military,” he added.
Air Force project
Visitors to the exhibit also saw a 30-minute movie in an air-conditioned 53-foot long customized semitrailer with sides that slid out to create a 30-seat climate-controlled movie theatre with a 180-degree screen.
The traveling exhibit is a project of the CAF Red Tail Squadron, a volunteer non-profit organization affiliated with the Commemorative Air Force.
The movie shown during the traveling exhibit highlights who the Tuskegee Airmen are, how they overcame obstacles to be allowed to train and fight as U.S. Army Air Corps pilots, how more than 10,000 other Black men and women also trained hard to support the pilots, and what the courage and determination they exhibited 60 years ago means to Americans today, according to Marvona Welsh, logistics coordinator of the exhibit.
The Airmen participated in World War II before President Harry Truman signed an order in 1948 that integrated the U.S. military.
New Smyrna next
Percy Williamson, director of the Daytona Beach Leisure Services Department, said Daytona Beach joined with the City of New Smyrna Beach, Vitas Innovative Hospice Care, Pepsi Bottling Company, and the Mary McLeod Bethune Legacy Preservation Institute to bring the exhibit here.
The Rise Above Traveling Exhibit moves on to the New Smyrna Beach Balloon and Air Show on March 23 and 24 at the New Smyrna airport.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron was established in the mid-1990s. It had one goal – to educate Americans about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.
“Their courage in overcoming racism on the ground and the (German) Luftwaffe in the air during WWII, and the fine examples of citizenship they set when they returned from war, contain life lessons for us all,” Welsh said.