By Tonia Ciancanelli
The Tuskegee Airmen Inc. Los Angeles Chapter answered students’ questions and signed books at a post-Veterans Day event on the LAC on Wednesday, Nov. 14.
Los Angeles Chapter President Lowell Steward Jr. said the organization uses speaking engagements, national conventions and merchandise to preserve their experiences.
The airmen sold and signed copies of “The Lonely Eagles” by Robert A. Rose in an effort to “Reach out to the community and encourage young people to exemplify and use the Tuskegee Airmen as role models.”
Steward told students, “You can’t be Oprah or Michael Jordan. Those people are one of a kind. However, you can strive to be a Tuskegee Airman.”
Former Los Angeles Chapter President Theodore Lumpkin Jr., said, “Our job is to promote the legacy and encourage young students to do their best and stay in school.”
As the first black fighter pilots in U.S. history, the airmen were on the forefront of the civil rights movement.
“The armed forces were all segregated and it is because of the Tuskegee efforts that they are no longer that way,” Steward, said.
Lumpkin said the Los Angeles Chapter was formed in 1974 because, “After the war, nobody remembered that there even was a black Air Force.
“It got to the point nobody really talked about what they went through during the war because nobody would believe it anyway.”
Mora Gleason, 20, a physics major, said she will be the third generation in her family to join the air force.
Gleason said, “Hearing their (Tuskegee Airmen) story just motivates me more. The chance to do something great for my country means so much as a minority.”
Steward told students, “It takes a special kind of person to be a good fighter pilot. No. 1, you have to be alive. You have to want to fly.
“Most will have an education and hopefully good judgment. They’ll be independent, but also follow orders to do things in a cooperative and efficient manner.”
Reminiscing, Steward said, “I asked my dad the very same question. What makes a good fighter pilot? He said the No. 1 thing is you need to feel.
“You need to feel like you’re the best damn pilot in the sky. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re not going to make it back.”
More information about the airmen or how to join the Los Angeles Chapter may be found by visiting lactai.org.