Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ave Atque Vale

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Tuskegee Airman Spann Watson Dead At 93

by Richard Cooper April 21, 2010

Retired US Air Force Colonel Spann Watson died April 15th of complications from pneumonia.  He was one of the original complement of World War II African-American pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen, which actually formed  the 99th Fighter Squadron based in North Africa and the 322nd Fighter Group based in Italy.  The Tuskegee Airmen were trained by the Division of Aeronautics of Tuskegee Institute, which had been founded by Booker T. Washington. Watson himself flew missions over North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Southern Europe.  Spann Watson remained in the newly created Air Force, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1965.  He joined the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Army Air Corps of their day was segregated by race as were the entire American Armed Forces. 

For 48 years, he was a resident of the Village of Westbury which is why I encountered him twice.  I live in the hamlet of Salisbury and we share the Westbury post office.  In 2001, I attended the Central Westbury Civic Association scholarship fundraising luncheon honoring Colonel Watson.  The Association was then led by the late Mannie Sweat, whom  I knew in my then capacity as Libertarian Party of New York State Chair.   It was a very nice event with singing of "Lift Every Voice & Sing" and "America The Beautiful."

Colonel Watson mentioned the TV movie about the Tuskegee Airmen starring Laurence Fishburne.  He didn't think too highly of it, saying something to the effect that they weren't spending their time fornicating and carrying on.  If I recall correctly, he said something like "We were flyboys, not playboys."

On another occasion I attended a Central Westbury Civic Association meeting.  There were complaints about motorcyclists terrorizing the block.  Someone said they were afraid to talk to the police in case word went back to the troublemakers.  Colonel Watson noted that he was a gunowner with a shotgun and wasn't afraid of riffraff.  He took his First and Second Amendments seriously, I guess.

He was quite a character with an interesting life.  I am glad I encountered him.

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