Three Tuskegee Airmen Share Their Stories

The P-51 fighter, flown by famous Tuskegee ace pilot Retired Air Force Lt. Colonel Lee A. Archer, is in the Fantasy of Flight hangar where the other airmen spoke.
POLK CITY (2012-2-9) -

Three of the Tuskegee Airmen, the black pilots who helped break the military color barrier during World War II, shared their experiences Thursday at a public symposium at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City.

The large open hangar at the aviation attraction was a perfect setting for the three WWII veteran pilots - who are all in their 80s. Tuskegee Airmen were surrounded by vintage aircraft like the P-51 Mustang fighter.

Leo Gray, 87, of Ft. Lauderdale, George Hardy, 86, of Sarasota and Daniel Keel, 89, of Leesburg sat behind a table on an elevated platform looking out at an audience filled with high school students, veterans and members of the community who came to meet them.

All three men are members of the famous African American air corps that trained in Tuskegee during WWII. Their collective story of battling against the segregated military has been told in literature, in documentary films and on the big “Hollywood” screen.

One of Keel’s more memorable moments came when he was with the first group of black officers to arrive at a Texas Army base for additional training on bombardiers. He said they were greeted by a white lieutenant colonel who laid down some rules.

“One we could not eat in the officers’ mess, two we could not go in the officers’ club, three if we go to the base theater we couldn’t sit in the officers’ section and four, if we go to town, we had to ride in the back of the bus,” Keel said. “I knew I was in trouble as soon as he said that.”

Keel and the other two Tuskegee Airmen are participating in additional public symposiums scheduled Friday and Saturday at Fantasy of Flight at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., just off Exit 44 on Interstate 4.

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