Sunday, July 14, 2024

Told For The First Time

February 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Conversation

A member of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen shares an insightful piece of his personal history.

Tuskegee Airman Major Ralph L. Turner

Nicknamed the Red Tails, the historic Tuskegee Airmen are remembered as brave fighter pilots who were met with resistance because of their race, but ended up as heroes in WWII.

Major Ralf L. Turner of Las Vegas is one of a shrinking number of surviving Tuskegee Airmen. Originally from Los Angeles, he began pilot training in Tuskegee, Ala. at age 18 and flew 56 combat missions in World War II. One of the biggest honors of his life was going to the White House to receive a Medal of Honor. For Black History Month, Las Vegas Black Image Magazine asked him to share a personal story that has yet to be told — until now.

I never told this story before, but I will give it to you anyway. We were making a run to a store before going overseas, and I remember standing in line with other military officers waiting to be served by the store clerk. The officer in front of me was white, and asked the store clerk for a bar of candy. The lady clerk at the counter told him that he could buy the whole box of candy if he wanted.

I knew that this was a great privilege, because there was a sign in the store indicating that only one bar of candy was for purchase per customer. So the white officer bought the whole box of candy, smiled at the clerk, and left. I watched him and asked if I too could buy a box of candy. The clerk told me, with a grimace on her face, that I couldn’t because it wasn’t allowed. I told her that it wasn’t for me, but for the line of officers behind me who were all white. She had no other choice but to sell me a box.

The box of candy was very important in the military, and it was worth more than money overseas because officers could use the candy and trade it for almost anything. I traded some candy for a necklace I bought for my mother and sent it back home. I remember that clerk looking at me differently than those white officers, even though we were all leaving to fight for this country overseas. When I left that store with my box of candy, her face was beet red.

Gold coin given to surviving Tuskegee Airmen in 2006.

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