Tuskegee Airman Perseveres
February 12, 2009
- Tuskegee Airman reminisces on his career in the Army
FORT GORDON, GA. -- The third time was indeed the charm.
"My first letter of rejection said there were no facilities to train Negroes to fly in any military branch. That ticked me off," said retired Lt. Col. Hiram Mann, who tried twice more before becoming part of the Tuskegee Airmen, graduating with a class in June 1944.
Mann was the guest speaker at the African-American/Black History Month Command Program Feb. 10 at Alexander Hall.
Mann, 87, was interested in airplanes as a child. He would take the money he earned from selling newspapers to purchase stick model airplanes.
"I never touched an airplane until I was in the military," he said.
As World War II progressed, the Army changed its policies concerning pilots. A few years after his first rejection notice, Mann tried again, but he was told he had to have two years of college and be single.
He had one year of college and eloped with his wife. The couple has been married 68 years.
By 1944, the requirements had been changed again, allowing those who could pass a rugged mental and physical exam to apply.
He became a combat fighter pilot with the 332nd Fighter Group and flew combat missions with the 302nd and the 100th Fighter Squadrons.
After World War II, he continued his military career. In 1957, he attended the Command and Staff College at the Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. There were nearly 1,000 officers in the class, and only four of them were African-Americans.
He went on to receive not only his bachelor degree but a masters degree as well. He retired from the Air Force in 1972. Mann said he has often asked why he would serve in a military which treated him and other African-Americans as it did.
He said America is his country, and he loved his country. Also, he had heard of the way Nazis treated women and he didn't want his wife, mother and grandmother to be treated that way