SAUK VILLAGE | Virgil Poole was a World War II combat pilot, one of the renowned "Tuskegee Airmen" who helped establish that African-Americans could fly planes in the military.
Yet Poole, now 92, on Tuesday told a gathering of students at Rickover Junior High School he thinks his great achievement in life is what he is doing now — traveling to schools and other groups to promote the memory of the airmen, while showing young people they can accomplish great things in life.
"I believe my purpose in existing this long, and I'm in no hurry for (God) to find out how long it has been, is in what I am doing right now," Poole said. "I'm trying to enlighten our youth and other adults as to what we were all about."
Poole is part of the Chicago Dodo chapter of the airmen, who tell war stories of the black fighter pilots who helped protect long-range bombers from enemy aircraft. Poole said he also wants to promote the idea that aviation is something that is open to anybody.
"Aviation was the entree to a better life for all of us," he said.
Poole's group exposes young people to flight once a month at the Gary-Chicago International Airport.
And what did Poole learn himself from his aviation experience? The alumnus of Chicago's Englewood High School who is also a college graduate said he went into the military thinking he knew everything he needed to know.
But of his military service, Poole said, "I learned to get along better with other people. I still use those lessons today."
The airmen tribute group was at the Sauk Village junior high school speaking to student members of the school's aviation club and top science students.
Some of the students in attendance had already taken advantage of the Young Eagles flight program that gives them a chance to go up in an airplane, and even work the controls for a bit under the watch of an experienced pilot.
Club sponsor Dave Hall said he tries to give the students some of the basic scientific knowledge about aviation, while school Principal Myra Patterson said she likes that her students are able to experience flight for themselves.
But it's not just about flying. Poole said he'd like to teach young people, particularly African-American youth, to have confidence in their abilities to do many things.
"You don't need to try to be equal, because you are equal already," Poole said.