Tuskegee airmen speak in Lynwood

2014-03-20T23:15:00Z 2014-03-20T23:24:17Z Tuskegee airmen speak in LynwoodBy David P. Funk Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
March 20, 2014 11:15 pm  • 

LYNWOOD | Samuel Dave wasn't aware that he sat across the room from aviation history as he folded and played with his paper airplane at Glenwood-Lynwood library Thursday.

But the Highland Elementary third-grader certainly had a big smile on his face when he asked the members of the Chicago "Dodo" chapter of the Tuskegee airmen what it was like to fly.

Original Tuskegee airmen O'Lawton Wilkerson and Virgil Poole, along with chapter president Ken Rapier, spoke to about 20 residents about the organization's history. Vallorie O'Neal, the first female African-American diesel locomotive engineer and a member of the "Dodo" chapter, was also on hand.

A 2009 documentary made by Governor's State University students entitled "Who Says Black Men Can't Fly?" was also shown.

"In my 93 years, so many wonderful things have happened of which (the Tuskegee airmen) were participants and of which we contributed to and improved," Poole said. "We've got a whole lot of things to be proud of."

The Tuskegee airmen were African-Americans who were part of the Army Air Corps during World War II. They faced segregation and prejudice but participated in nearly 1,500 combat missions.

Rapier talked about the Chicago chapter's Young Eagles program, which offers kids between 8 and 17 years of age the chance to experience flying for the first time for free. A member takes the kids up on the second Saturday of each month, weather permitting, from Gary/Chicago International Airport.

The group has also awarded 90 scholarships since 2004.

The "Dodo" chapter includes Tuskegee airmen who were not only pilots, but navigators, bombardiers, maintenance staff and instructors, friends and descendants of airmen and others who just want to keep the story alive.

The chapter was named after the flightless bird because when the Tuskegee airmen returned home after World War II, they were unable to find work as commercial pilots because of discrimination. They were flightless, Rapier said.

"As long as we're living and breathing, the Tuskegee airmen will never become extinct," Rapier said.

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