Herbert Carter died last week, and his wife, Mildred Carter, died a little better than one year ago, but these veterans’ legacies to anyone with serious aspirations, combined with a “let nothing stand in my way” attitude, will forever be immortalized.
This Sunday, Dr. Brian Smith, Ph. D, and president of the Tuskegee Airmen National Museum, shared with me that Herbert Carter, “Liked to talk to young people all the time especially about succeeding. He was an instructor at Tuskegee for many years, and he always told of his experiences as one of the first Tuskegee Airmen.”
For anyone who may be in the dark, Mr. Carter was one of the 33 original Tuskegee Airmen. Their story, as incredible as it was, went largely untold for decades. Part of the reason for this is that there was no mention of their heroic combat missions in any grade school, high school, or college history textbook that I was assigned to study as a student or review as an education professional; rather, I learned of these heroes on my own.
Much of the mainstream media did not unleash this story until 2007 when former President Bush awarded the Tuskegee Airmen with the Congressional Medal of Honor some 60 years after they served in World War II.
The story of these veterans was further catapulted into the mainstream through the film Red Tails. Eight months ago, in a column entitled “Brain Retrain,” I wrote the following, “[Director] George Lucas…had to put up his own money to get Red Tails produced. He was told that it was not seen as a movie that would fiscally do well at the box office because it did not have the typical negative stereotypes that many ‘thugged-out/gangsta movies’ tend to have.” The movie was released in January 2012, and Mr. Carter was able to attend the premier. Sadly, however, his partner in flight and life, Mildred Hemmons Carter, passed away before the screening.
When I asked Dr. Smith about the late Herbert Carter’s love story, he said, “The love story was the highlight of his life.” All historical accounts support that Herbert and Mildred Carter were married for 60 years. She was the first black female pilot to receive a license in Alabama, an unheard of feat for that tumultuous time period. Regarding the 1942 marriage of these two pilots, CNN reported this past January, “Flying was intoxicating. It provided Herbert and Mildred a sense of freedom — to be themselves, to dream big. The in-your-face racism of the segregated South was gone, if only for a while.”
When the Tuskegee Airmen were told they would never fly for the United States, another one of the original 33 Tuskegee Airmen, Washington D. Ross’ response was, “Don’t let anybody tell you what you can’t do; just keep at it.”
These indomitable soldiers known as the Tuskegee Airmen flew far above the racism that they were met with at home to ensure that those living and those of us not yet born could live in this beautiful land of the “free” and home of the brave.
Thanks to every single veteran for fighting for our freedom, and thanks to the Tuskegee Airmen, of which the late Mildred Hemmons Carter was also included, for their flights to keep us free.