Tuskegee Airmen – the all-black 100th Fighter Squadron was legendary in WWII, and Willie N. Rogers was one of them. According to the Tampa Bay Times, he passed into eternity on Friday in St. Petersburg, Florida at the age of 101 from complications from a stroke. He was the oldest surviving member of the original squadron.
Rogers lived near the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which he attended regularly. He was described as a loving, kind man who treated everyone with dignity… even after the indignities he suffered during his lifetime.
Willie Rogers was drafted in 1942, and served with the 100th Engineer Squadron, as well as the Red Tail Angels. He didn’t fuss over his place in the “Greatest Generation,” preferring to melt into the background.
When President Bush awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to 300 of his fellow airmen in 2007, Rogers did not attend. His family was not even aware that their father was part of the heroic squadron until 2012.
He eventually told them the reason he never mentioned it was that he was involved in logistics and administration, not flights. But he was involved in combat, having been shot by German soldiers in January of 1943. After 3 months in the hospital, he returned to his unit.
He saw the Dachau concentration camp after it was liberated. The atrocities he saw there and in combat may have had a deep effect on his heart. Those things may have also contributed to his silence.
But his family worked to have his place in history acknowledged, and in 2013, he received his Congressional Gold Medal.
“He recognized that we as people and he as a black man have come a long way but that there is still more to go. But in God’s eyes there is no color, he’d say. We are all one and he lived by the greatest commandment — to love one another.” Veronica Williams, Willie’s daughter
In this day and age, THAT’s a hero. A man who lived a caring, dignified life as a testimony to his family.
History.com gave a description of the squadron:
The Tuskegee airmen were the first black servicemen to serve as military aviators in the U.S. armed forces, flying with distinction during World War II. Though subject to racial discrimination both at home and abroad, the 996 pilots and more than 15,000 ground personnel who served with the all-black units would be credited with some 15,500 combat sorties and earn over 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses for their achievements. The highly publicized successes of the Tuskegee Airmen helped pave the way for the eventual integration of the U.S. armed forces under President Harry Truman in 1948.