The large open hangar at the Fantasy of Flight aviation attraction was a perfect setting for the three WWII veteran pilots who are all in their 80s. The 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 so they could “go to war” has been told in literature, in documentary films and on Hollywood’s big screen.
Keel talked about one of more memorable moments 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.
I’ll have more of their stories over the next few weeks. All three men said they continue to do public forums with the hope of invigorating the younger generation to strive for lofty, worthwhile goals.
P-51 Fly-By Video
If you want to see the P-51 Mustang fly – click HERE. The owner of Fantasy of Flight took the fighter plane up for a fly-by to honor his guests. Unfortunately, I was inside doing interviews and missed the demonstration, but we heard it. Leo’s eyes lit up when he heard the distinctive roar of that Merlin engine roar by outside. The Red Tail pilot called its sound as sweet as honey.