MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A little known town in Alabama produced some of the most important pilots in World War II, and there legacy is alive and well in South Florida and soon on the big screen.
During World War II, the first group of African-American pilots were gathered in Tuskegee, Alabama to train for combat. The fighter pilots eventually became known as the Tuskegee Airmen and they proved to be quite the fighting force in WWII.
During the war, no plane that was guarded by the Tuskegee Airmen and their famous red tailed planes were lost. The story will hit the big screen in the new George Lucas movie, Red Tails.
One of the original Tuskegee Airmen, Lieutenant Colonel Eldridge F. Williams lives in South Florida and keeps the memory of the pilots alive.
“People had never heard of the Tuskegee Airmen you know,” said Lieutenant Williams.
He served in the United States Air Force for 23 years and at 94-years-old his is living history of the Tuskegee Airmen and how they trained fighter pilots at Tuskegee on survival and emergency procedures during the war.
Lt. Col. Williams wanted to be a fighter pilot, but was rejected because of the color of his skin after a doctor lied on his physical about his eyesight.
“For 60 years I’ve carried around a document that says what I just told you. ‘Negro coving of the optic disk,’” said Williams.
But even though he didn’t get wings, Lt. Col. Williams is proud to be a Tuskegee Airmen and proud of the legacy.
“I certainly am grateful to have lived long enough to have seen this day,” said Williams.
He is seeing a day where there are aviation programs for minorities like the one at Florida Memorial University.
“Without the Tuskegee Airmen, there would be no Aviation department at Florida Memorial University. No doubt,” said pilot Richard Hall.
Hall is an example of what came from the Tuskegee Airmen. He said he had no dreams of flying until one day, as a student, he met Colonel Charles McGee, a Red Tails Fighter pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen.
“That day, I believe it was 1977, meeting him and learning more about the Tuskegee Airmen, I knew, I said ‘Wow, this is something I can latch onto,’” Hall said.
Hall did indeed latch onto the U.S. Air Force and wound up serving 13 years to his country. Hall has since gone on to become a pilot for United Airlines.
As far as the movie, Lt. Williams believes George Lucas made it appealing to the right people; those who can continue to dream.
“He didn’t make it for me, he was making it for another audience,” Williams said.
The movie will help preserve the powerful legacy that the brave group of pilots established decades ago in the tiny town of Tuskegee, Alabama.