Meet history face to face

Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a partner and regular contributor to

One of the most intriguing aspects of the work I do is that I often get to meet people who are considered to be famous, or important. Sometimes I find their fame to be deserved, while in other cases I leave that meeting scratching my head wondering what anybody sees in the empty suit I just wasted an hour talking to.

Most people don’t get the opportunity to rub elbows with the famous, the wealthy, or the historically significant very often, if ever. This column is about making that opportunity possible, at least for those who feel a little adventurous, have an appreciation for history, and are willing to travel a bit to meet and talk to some truly remarkable men in their twilight years. I’m talking about Tuskegee Airmen, and you might be talking to them soon, face to face, if that’s your choice. Read on, friend. Read on.

Let’s talk specifics. The Who of it all is the Red Tail Pilots, more commonly known these days as the Tuskegee Airmen. The What is a reunion. But this reunion isn’t a closed meeting that you can only read about. It’s open to the public. That’s where you come in.

The Where is Orlando, Florida. Specifically, the Rosen Plaza Hotel, which is located alongside Interstate 4, convenient to Orlando International Airport (for those who fly commercially) and Kissimmee Gateway (for those GA pilots who fly themselves to their destinations).

The When is potentially the best of all in this gathering of true greats. It will be held on March 23, 24, and 25th. While your neighbor is still digging his car out of a snowbank, you could be sitting poolside chatting with men you never dreamed you would meet. Men who truly made great strides to change our country, and the world, in ways that were widely agreed to be unimaginable when they were in their prime. But they did it — and we are the happy recipients of their sacrifice and effort.

If not for our own enjoyment, perhaps this is a good opportunity, and perhaps the last opportunity we will ever get, to say thank you to men who absolutely deserve it.

The three-day event includes a reception on Wednesday evening, followed by a tour of Fantasy of Flight on Thursday, where an outstanding P-51C model resides, painted up to look exactly like Tuskegee ace Lee Archer’s airplane, zoot suit and all. In fact Lee actually autographed this airplane. If you look carefully at the armor plating behind the pilot’s head, you’ll see the evidence for yourself.

A private BBQ lunch with the Tuskegee’s is included in that daylong tour of what has come to be known as the World’s Greatest Aviation Attraction. That little perk alone should spark some interesting stories from men who have actually flown P-51s and P-40s, while escorting B-17s and B-24s on bombing runs deep into Germany. Examples of each of those aircraft will be sitting on the ramp and in the hangars in front of you.

On the final day of the gathering, you have free time to chill out by the pool, or shop and visit the sites in Orlando and the surrounding area. The wrap up that evening will include cocktails and dinner with the men you came to spend time with.

It’s a rare opportunity when any of us are invited to step up, shake hands, and chat with people we will otherwise only read about in the paper, watch on television, or see in the movies.

Speaking of movies, George Lucas will have a new movie out at right about this time next year. It is a fictionalized tale of the Tuskegees in wartime. However, actual Tuskegee Airmen Lee Archer and Roscoe Brown were on hand as technical advisors to lend a realism and accuracy to the project that has never been seen before, and may never be seen again.

The youngest of the Tuskegees are now in their mid-80s. They will sit in theater seats next year watching that film and reliving some of the most vivid recollections of their youth as a result. There’s a good chance you will do that, too.

Each of us has the opportunity to share in those stories and hear them first-hand if we decide to do so. So let me urge you to consider the option seriously. Whether you want to be a fly on the wall, an enthusiastic participant, or if you want to get really bold and partner with the organizer by sponsoring a band or other amenity for the event — this may be the last time any of us gets the chance to walk up to history, extend a hand, and say, “Thank you.”

I think I’ll take that chance. These guys certainly deserve the respect and admiration they and their peers worked so hard to earn.

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  1. Kent Misegades says

    One of the most memorable, and well-attended, guest speakers at my EAA Chapter 1114 in recent years was Wilson V. Eagleson, yes that was his name! Since chapter members knew most of the details of the Tuskegee Airmen and the challenges they faced, Mr. Eagleson focused on his experiences flying and fighting. His memory was as sharp as a razor, and I understand his flying skills were, too, when one of our USAF veteran pilots took him for a ride in a Cub after the program. Our past chapter VP, African-American Air Force Academy graduate Major Jason O. Harris, Iraq combat pilot, cites his meeting Tuskegee Airmen as the reason for his joining the Air Force and becoming a pilot. These gentlemen never stopped serving their countrymen. When I attended Auburn University in the late 1970s, there was nothing to remind one of the history of Moton Field in Tuskegee, there is now and I recommend a visit. Other Tuskegee Airmen bases, for instance Walterboro, SC, are sorely in need of some form of memorial to their history being there.

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