Red Tail’s 90th birthday

By Zach Warner | DFW Newsflash | June 2017

When Tuskegee Airmen like Homer Hogues returned from service in World War II, the pomp and fanfare the African American squadron received was minimal, especially compared to their white military counterparts.

Even when Hogues and members of his unit were invited to march in President Harry Truman’s inaugural parade in 1949, the lodging accommodations left much to be desired. While the white soldiers stayed in barracks, Hogues and the other Tuskegee Airmen spent their nights camped in a cold hangar.

But as Hogues and a large gathering of family, friends and military comrades celebrated his 90th birthday at Antioch Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in South Dallas in April, family members recounted just how much society has changed since he was a young staff sergeant in the now famous Tuskegee unit.

“I was able to go with him to Barack Obama’s second inauguration where he was treated, pampered, and escorted to the White House, and where he stayed in a comfortable four-star hotel,” said Mary Hogues Barber, Hogues’ first-born child, about the more recent honor he received as a former Tuskegee member. “He was not in that cold [hangar] any longer.

“He was able to go from there to see a black man in the White House – coming from the time he saw (drinking) fountains that said ‘colored only’ and ‘white only.’ This is what my dad experienced. But today, I can say he harbored no hatred. We were never taught to hate the white man for what he had done to our people. We were taught to love. The legacy he leaves with us is a legacy of love.”

Hogues received plenty of praise at the event from family, friends and acquaintances, who described him as humble, strong, appreciative and encouraging. Attendees from Houston, San Antonio, and Washington, D.C. paid homage to the Dallas resident who grew up in Waxahachie, enlisted in the service out of high school in 1945, and after basic training, joined the 99th Fighter Squadron 332nd Fighter Group, a Tuskegee unit. He gained specialized training on the P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft as an airplane and engine mechanic.

Although his involvement in the war was known, it was not until he was 80 that family learned that he was a documented original Tuskegee Airman. After that, Hogues joined the national organization Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., which created opportunities for him to travel across the country to speak to young people and various groups about his experience in the unit and to help preserve the squadron’s history.

“What daddy took away from [his time with the Tuskegee unit] is no matter what people say that you cannot do, you just go steadfast and do what you can do,” said Barbara Hogues, Homer’s younger daughter. “If what you’re doing is right, then you’re going to be honored one day. Maybe not then, but sooner or later it’s going to come back to you.

“During that time, when he did what he could during World War II, he came back and there were no honors, no nothing. It kind of takes away from you then, but it also humbles you. Because no matter what man gives you, you know that you did your part.”

Recognition for his involvement did not come until later in his life. Hogues has been to the White House, the Governor’s Mansion in Texas, and even appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

“I wanted this birthday event to be the most special thing that daddy has ever done, but if he were to tell you, it would be when Oprah Winfrey kissed him on the cheek,” Barbara said. “It’s really hard to beat that.”

Retired Brig. General Leon Johnson, national president of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., spoke during the event and mentioned Hogues’ extensive travels to Tuskegee events, including a trip to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., where Hogues was one of two airmen on the field at halftime to be awarded the Omar Bradley Spirit of Independence Award for Excellence in Leadership. The award is very prestigious, going to recipients over the years such as President Ronald Reagan and John Wayne.

Johnson gave some background history on the Tuskegee unit and mentioned that those in the unit between 1941-1949, before the U.S. Military was desegregated, qualify as documented original Tuskegee Airmen. He also talked about an act of civil disobedience by 61 black officers at Freemont Field in Seymour, Ind., that had a lasting impact. The officers were determined to go into the white officers club instead of staying only in the black officers club, which led to some court-martial charges. The charges were eventually dismissed.

“That event was instrumental in President Truman’s signing an executive order which desegregated the military,” Johnson said. “It was actively led by Tuskegee Airmen officers in the bomber unit. It was part of the double victory that the airmen were trying to achieve, victory overseas in combat against the enemy, and victory at home against prejudice and discrimination.

“[The Tuskegee unit] was an experiment meant to fail. It did not, because of folks like Homer Hogues, who was there, who made sure that excellence in everything you do results in success.”

Johnson’s organization is not the only one that wants to preserve the memory of those who served and the heroics that took place in the Tuskegee unit. The Commemorative Air Force, based at Dallas Executive Airport in Oak Cliff, has organized a squadron called the Red Tail Squadron, the nickname given to the Tuskegee Airmen, who flew planes with tales painted red.

Major Allen Taylor of the Commemorative Air Force said they fly a restored P-51, one of the planes the Tuskegee squadron flew, to all 50 states each year. They are also hoping to restore a P-47, another plane the unit flew and the type Hogues worked on while with the squadron.

“There’s only two of these [types of planes] left in the country, and we have one of them just three miles from here sitting in a hangar,” Taylor said of the P-47. “I’d love to see that plane flying.

“Because of Homer and the other men and women who were involved in [the Tuskegee] experience, this is important to us. We want to continue the legacy for as long as possible.”

Erik Wilson, deputy mayor pro tem of the city of Dallas, spoke of the influence Hogues’ story has on the community and presented him with a plaque. He also read a declaration from the City of Dallas and the city council that honors Hogues.

“I thank you for all that you’ve done,” Wilson said. “May you continue living a life that’s worth living and may you continue to be a legend in our lives. May we continue to follow in your footsteps.”

Hogues was not the only documented original Tuskegee airman present at the celebration. San Antonio resident James Bynum, 96, was also on hand to honor his fellow Red Tail. Bynum and Hogues are two of a few Tuskegee members from this region of the country, as there are less than 700 of the original 16,000 men and women who were part of the unit during the 1940s living today.

“They’re thinning,” Bynum said of the remaining survivors of the unit. “It’s like any other group; it’s getting smaller. They’re just good people. I know so many of them.”

Family described Hogues as a godly man who prays for his family and is always there to watch over them and encourage them. Married to Mattie, his wife of 70 years, Hogues continues to exemplify Biblical characteristics as a father and husband, Barber said.

“He covered his house with prayer,” she said. “He was gone [to work] until 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning, but we were covered with prayer.”

Hogues expressed his thanks for the outpouring of love and support he received from everyone who attended his 90th birthday party. He also summarized what made his time as a Tuskegee Airman such a special event in his life.

“It was a great experience [in the unit]. I was able to meet a lot of people, made a lot of friends, and I just enjoyed it all,” Hogues said. “God is so wonderful, and He’s better than that. I’m so thankful to all my friends that came out to see me.”