As the years continue to come and go, with no regard for what we’ve yet to accomplish, less than 200 living original Tuskegee Airmen are still alive to share their remarkable stories. And recently, the oldest among them – Willie Rogers – passed away at the age of 101.
Born in Apalachicola on the gulf shores of Florida in 1915, Rogers said humbly in a television interview that he was raised with the motto, “You ain’t better than nobody, and ain’t nobody better than you.”
Rogers was drafted into the Army just two months after the U.S. entered World War II. He served in the 100th Air Engineer Squad before being transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps and placed with the 100th Fighter Squadron, who would later become known as the Tuskegee Airmen, our country first black military pilots and their support personnel. It was in the 100th Fighter Squadron that he was deployed to the Mediterranean and European theaters of the war, serving a support role in logistics and administration. He attained the rank of Master Sergeant.
Rogers was wounded in the line of duty, taking a shot to the leg and stomach from German soldiers while on duty in Italy and spending three months in an English military hospital.
Described as a kind and generous man, he graduated from the Clafin College of Agriculture and Mechanical Institute before his service. When he returned to Florida after the war, he opened his own business – Rogers’ Radio Sales and Service in his new hometown of St. Petersburg where he sold and repaired small appliances.
Rogers was also a devout member of his local African Methodist Episcopal Church, an inspiration to others as he walked to services each week for over 50 years until just a few weeks before his passing.
We send our condolences to the Rogers family and thank them for continuing to share his story so the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen may not be forgotten. Their service and sacrifice to our country serves as a means to inspire future generations to rise above their own obstacles and achieve their goals.
With the passing of Willie Rogers, we are reminded yet again of the swiftness of time and narrowing opportunity we have to personally honor these surviving heroes. Each member of the Tuskegee Airmen – pilots and support personnel, men and women – holds a unique place in history and it is our privilege to work to ensure their impact on history is never forgotten.
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.