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Tuesday, April 23, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesSt. Croix Welcomes Two More Tuskegee Airmen

St. Croix Welcomes Two More Tuskegee Airmen

Tuskegee Airmen Wilbur Mason (left) and Eugene Richardson (right) and Richardson’s wife, Helen, arrive at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport .About a dozen people showed up to greet two members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport Friday afternoon. Eugene Richardson of Philidelphia, Penn., and Wilbur Mason of Atlanta, Ga., are on the island to attend the installation ceremony of the Virgin Islands’ chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. (VICTAI).

Retired Col. Caroline Fawkes said she came out to express her gratitude. She said that the efforts of the Tuskegee Airmen to desegregate the armed forces paved the way for her to become a pilot in the National Guard.

“Because of them, I got to accomplish my goals,” she said.

The Tuskegee Airmen were founded in 1941 as a segregated fighter group. They were the first African-Americans allowed to serve as pilots in the US military. They saw extensive combat over Europe during World War II as fighter escorts defending allied bombers.

The unit was highly decorated and their exemplary service is cited as one the factors that ultimately led to the desegregation of the US military in 1948.

The Tuskegee Airmen included two native Virgin Islanders, Henry E. Rohlsen, for whom the airport is named, and Herbert H. Heywood.

Two of Heywood’s daughters, Cenita and Carmen Heywood, have been instrumental in founding VICTAI.

“The main focus of the Tuskegee organization is to keep history alive,” said Cenita Heywood. “To make sure that all of the efforts and struggles that these airmen entailed in order to make it easier for some of us to join the military are not forgotten.”

Carmen Heywood added that VICTAI will also encourage local children to pursue careers in aviation and aeronautics. The organization has already set up a youth aviation program on St. Croix.

“This program has been in place since February and there are already 40 students who are part of the program and many more are interested,” she said. “So this is to encourage them to enter those fields and show them that if that’s their dream, it can become a reality.”

When the airmen arrived, they were immediately mobbed by admirers. They stopped to shake hands and pose for pictures for almost a half-hour.

Wilbur Mason told the crowd that he had always wanted to visit the Virgin Islands and that he was thankful to finally have the opportunity. He also said that he hoped VICTAI would have a positive influence on the islands’ youth and offered them a little advice.

“It’s important to be your best every day,” he said, adding that anyone can be somebody if they try. “Naturally it’s going to take some effort on your part. It’s not just going to come to you; you got to put forth some effort.”

The installation ceremony will take place Saturday evening at Government House. It is invitation only, but there will be an opportunity for the public to meet the airmen Sunday at Sunny Isle Amphitheatre from 2-5 p.m.

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