SMITHFIELD—William White served his country during World War II and then went on with his life, until 2012 when he saw the movie“Red Tails,” and then he decided to join the Tidewater Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.
White is one of five known documented Tuskegee Airmen living in Hampton Roads.
White, 86, served in the legendary all African-American aviation unit from April,1945 until January, 1947 as an airman in the 332nd Fighter Group. He worked in a supply office, providing aircraft materials to the airplanes’ maintainers.
Nearly 10 years ago, he met fellow airman Grant Williams at a Christmas parade in Hampton and they began talking about their shared experiences. But it wasn’t until after the movie "Red Tails" hit the big screen that White decided to join.
White will receive his official Congressional Gold Medal bronze replica in a ceremony at Smithfield High School on Saturday, May 18 at 10 a.m. He and four local Tuskegee Airmen will be honored that evening at the Langley Speedway in Hampton.
White says he’s pleased to see all the attention he and his fellow airmen are now receiving. “It shows the world we didn’t fail,” White said.
White talked about the obstacles he and his fellow airmen faced, simply because they wanted to serve their country during a time of war. It was also a time of discrimination.
“It was tough,” White said. “You know why? Blacks had two wars to fight. There was the war with the enemy and racism. It was terrible.”
“You had two lines in the mess hall,” White continued. “One for the whites and one for the blacks, and we had separate cooks. The whites sat on their side and the blacks sat on their side. So whether they had better food than we had, I don’t know, because I didn’t see it. But I can believe it at that particular time.”
White said in order to survive, he and his fellow airmen had to be strong. “Everything we did we had to fight for it,” he said. “And they wanted us to fail, but they forgot one thing. We, as blacks, we were very gifted. And gifts come from whom? God. And that’s how we made it.”