By Carol Megathlin, Guest Columnist
Nov 11, 2014
At the age of 95, we can be forgiven for not expecting any surprises in our future. So when Mrs. Amelia Jones boarded the Honor Flight bus bound for Washington, D.C., she had no idea that she would return a different person.
Amelia Robinson Jones stands among the African-American women who stepped forward during World War II to serve our country. Born on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, the youngest of 14 children, she completed her bachelor’s degree in 1942 at Georgia State College, later renamed Savannah State University.
On Feb. 10, 1943, she enlisted in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps at Hunter Army Airfield. In September of the same year, Uncle Sam called her to active duty as a member of the renamed Women’s Army Corps.
For two years, her 118th Army Air Force Base Unit served at several different posts across the country. Her last assignment, at Godman Field in Kentucky, lay silent in her past until Sept. 6, 2014, at the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Then her life changed.
John W. McCaskill was roaming the Memorial that day, dressed in a WWII uniform as part of the National Park Service “Living History Meets Honor Flight” program. Hundreds of WW II veterans from all over the nation were milling about the Memorial, but John, an African-American himself, was drawn to “Miss Amelia.”
Upon their first encounter, John said, “Ma’am, I’ve walked through many doors of opportunity, and it’s because you and so many others kicked the doors off the hinges.”
As her Honor Flight guardian pushed her wheelchair around the Memorial, Miss Amelia ran into John a second time. She asked if he would take her to the Memorial’s bas-relief honoring the women who served in WWII.
With John kneeling beside her wheelchair, Amelia recounted the units she had served with, but it was the last one that almost made his heart stop. The 99th Pursuit Squadron at Godman Field in Kentucky. He couldn’t believe his ears.
He was speaking to a woman who had served with the black aviators who came to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen. And she had no idea that she qualified to be one of them.
But John did. He had just completed a dual master’s degree in military and American history. His thesis topic? The Tuskegee Airmen.
He explained that the term includes anyone who participated in the Tuskegee experience. Amelia had supervised the postal service at Godman Field, delivering mail to the aviators of the 99th Pursuit Squadron.
At John’s request, Amelia sent him a copy of her discharge papers. Within several days, John had Amelia Robinson Jones certified as a “Documented Original Tuskegee Airman.”
John worked feverishly. Miss Amelia is under Hospice Savannah’s home care, a star in their “We Honor Veterans” program. Afflicted with COPD — though she never smoked — her lungs are fragile, vulnerable to flu and pneumonia.
John contacted the Hiram Mann chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen in Walterboro, South Carolina, working alongside Honor Flight Savannah, Hospice Savannah and the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum to arrange an induction ceremony for Miss Amelia.
On the morning of Oct. 25, 2014, at the Mighty 8th Museum, Chief Master Sergeant (retired) James Hampton of the Walterboro Tuskegee Airmen and Brigadier General (retired) Arnold Gordon-Bray slipped the signature red Tuskegee blazer onto the shoulders of Amelia Robinson Jones.
At the reception following her induction, Amelia’s only child, a son, said that his mother had raised four or five other boys.
“She was the mother of the neighborhood,” he said. “But she could be a disciplinarian at times.”
Immediately after the war, Amelia used the G.I. Bill to pursue a master’s degree at Howard University. She worked two years for A&T State College in Greensboro, North Carolina, then served for 19 years as the services club director at both Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Air Field in Georgia.
Discipline, duty, integrity and hard work — all the hallmarks of a good soldier. And Sergeant Amelia R. Jones adhered to those values all her life. As a result, her history has been one of honor and achievement. All this as a woman, a black woman, born on July 3, 1919.
These are our American veterans.
*NOTE: The term “Tuskegee Airmen” is not an official USAF definition, but was invented by Charles Francis when he wrote his 1955 book with that title, the USAF does not define the term, and does not determine who is or is not a Tuskegee Airman.
Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated (TAI) defines a Tuskegee Airman as anyone involved in the Tuskegee Airmen experience, who belonged to their units or who were assigned to the installations where their units were assigned, whether those personnel were black or white, male or female. By the TAI definition, the nurses at Tuskegee Army Air Field would be both Tuskegee nurses and Tuskegee Airmen who happened to be nurses.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.