A photo of Tuskegee Airman William R. White is seen next to his casket at Little Zion Baptist Church during his memorial service, Thursday, July 30, 2015, in Smithfield, Va. White died July 24 at his home in Smithfield. The Tuskegee Airmen were the U.S. military’s first African-American aviators. The group went on to take part in more than 1,500 combat missions, earning more 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses. (Kaitlin McKeown/The Daily Press via AP)
William White, a former Tuskegee Airman from Smithfield, Va., died July 24 at his home from natural causes, family members said. He was 88.
The Tuskegee Airmen, sometimes known as the Red Tails, was a legendary squadron of all-Black aviators, who distinguished themselves during World War II. The group participated in more than 1,500 combat missions, earning more than 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses. And, according to a biography on the Tuskegee University website, the Airmen had the highest success in escorting bombers during World War II – having one of the lowest loss records of all the escort fighter groups.
But Brandon White—who informed ABC affiliate WVEC about his father’s death—and his sister Inetha Holmes said they didn’t know about their father’s history with the famous air squad until a couple years ago, according to The Associated Press, and that he was very reticent about his military past.
“He wouldn’t go into detail about anything,” Brandon White said. “He was very humble, humble to a fault.”
Tuskegee Airman Ezra M. Hill, Sr. of, Hampton, Va., listens during a memorial service for fellow Airman William R. White, Thursday, July 30, 2015, in Smithfield, Va. The Tuskegee Airmen were the U.S. military’s first African-American aviators. The group went on to take part in more than 1,500 combat missions, earning more 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses. (Kaitlin McKeown/The Daily Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
The elder White was drafted into the Army infantry in 1945 but was transferred to the Army Air Corps, where he served in the 99th Pursuit Squadron’s 332nd Fighter Group until January 1947.
White’s job was to service the planes to keep them in the air, he said during a 2013 talk at the Isle of Wight County Museum, as reported by The Virginian-Pilot.
But often, White and other Tuskegee Airmen fought battles on two fronts.
“Blacks had two wars to fight. There was the war with the enemy and racism. It was terrible,” White told WVEC in a 2013 interview.
“Everything we did we had to fight for it,” he added. “And they wanted us to fail, but they forgot one thing. We, as Blacks, we were very gifted. And gifts come from whom? God. And that’s how we made it.”
Funeral services for White were held July 30.