AUDIO: One Of Last Surviving Tuskegee Airmen Dies In South Florida
Eldridge Williams grew up picking cotton in Texas. In 1942, he was commissioned as second lieutenant on Miami Beach, and then assigned to the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama.
He wanted to be a pilot, but an army doctor grounded him, citing poor eyesight. Williams remembered it as a symbol of discrimination.
“He kept that exact same paperwork in his pocket. He carried it around in his jacket pocket for years and years,” remembered Richard Hall, a former Air Force pilot.
Hall got to know Williams through Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., the national nonprofit dedicated to honoring the legacy of the all-black military flying unit formed during World War II. He said Williams didn’t let being grounded deter him.
“That’s the kind of man he was,” said Hall. “Even though he was hurt by that, he used it to motivate himself and others.”
Williams went on to train Tuskegee Airmen who flew overseas escorting bomber planes. Not one was shot down under Tuskegee Airmen protection.
After retiring from military service, Williams turned to another passion: working with youth. He taught physical education at Richmond Heights Middle School and was later tasked with desegregating Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Even after retiring, he returned to schools to tell his story.
In doing so, Hall said, Williams got a chance to live his dream.
“As we did our dynamic duo thing, talking with kids, he would always call me his co-pilot,” said Hall. “He got a chance to be a pilot.”
Williams will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.