Honoring a 'Red Tail' after death
January 31, 2012
He was a Tuskegee Airman in history, but to his Family he was known as husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Retired Lt. Col. Luke J. Weathers Jr. died Oct. 13, 2011 at the age of 90 in Tucson, Ariz. and was buried in section 64 in Arlington National Cemetery Jan. 20.
During his time in service from 1942 to 1945, he flew P-51 and P-39 planes. Weathers flew in the 302nd Fighter Squadron as part of the Tuskegee Airmen 332nd fighter group during World War II. While in the European theatre, Weathers shot down two German planes in November 1944 while escorting Army Air Force bombers. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions. In 2007, President George W. Bush presented 300 Tuskegee Airmen, including Weathers, with the Congressional Gold Medal for their service in World War II.
Former Tuskegee Airmen retired Col. Charles E. McGee, an attendee of the funeral, explained there were really five phases to the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee experience produced 992 pilots, but thousands served behind the scenes in communications, administration, medical, kitchens and other services. Of these, there is no clear number of how many are still alive.
"I think our experiences helped open doors for equal access and equal opportunity," said McGee at a reception held in the Women in Military Service for American Memorial in ANC following Weathers' burial. "There are still a lot of doors closed, so the fight isn't over yet. One day, I want [the nation] to be all-American -- not black, white, green or whatever."
Weathers is survived by five children, 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his widow Jacqueline Weathers.
"I married a beautiful human being; he was a kind, loving, humble person," said his wife. "The life he lived sort of spoke to that." She described Weathers as being Family-oriented. Although he was proud of what he did during the war, he didn't "wear it out front to say 'This is what I did,'" rather he took it as an opportunity to teach people about the Tuskegee Airmen's history.
His eldest son, Luke J. Weathers III, remembered meeting Tuskegee Airmen through his father and only then learning just how important a role his father played during World War II.
He would be asked, "'Did you know your dad did this? Did you know your dad did that?' and I'd go back and [he would say], 'Yeah, yeah. I did that.' That's the kind of guy he was," said Weathers III. He explained that his father didn't willingly tell his war stories.
Annie Weathers, married to Weathers III, described her father-in-law as quiet, sweet and a Family man. She talked about her father-in-law and how he would call her husband every year on his birthday.
"It's hard to describe, he was kind of a suave man, very debonair. He was just the epitome of a man. He taught me everything I know," said Rashida Crute, a granddaughter. "He instilled many things in me … [to] always put your Family first, [that] education is important, [how] your name is you, [to] keep as clean as possible, strive to do the best … and not worry about what anybody else thinks."
The history of Weathers and the other "Red Tail" pioneers' stories are passed on through the generations ensuring this important part of American history isn't lost.
Rashida was the only grandchild born on the east coast. Because of this, she spent a great amount of time with her grandfather and was raised by him along with her mother. She would go to numerous Tuskegee Airmen events with her grandfather. "He taught me a lot of lessons. One is to keep my head up. There will be people that don't like me for a number of reasons. Just keep my head up and keep going."
Weathers broke barriers becoming the first African-American air traffic controller in Memphis, Tenn., during his 25 years with the Federal Aviation Administration. He also became the first African-American member of Little Flower church in 1963. He tried to raise his kids to not let barriers stop them, according to the tribute to Luke Weathers in the reception program.
"That's what my father instilled in me. You can get what you want, you just have to persevere. If you believe in something you can achieve it," said Trina Weathers, one of the airman's daughters.
The task to bury him in ANC became even more urgent after finding out that the Jan. 20 date they had chosen was also the release of "Red Tails," a film highlighting several Tuskegee Airmen stories including that of Weathers. Determined to make the date happen, she went through the channels to fulfill her father's request.
Prior to the release of the movie, former Tuskegee Airmen were invited to view the movie, including McGee.
"The facts are true," said McGee, who flew alongside Weathers in Italy. "The movie is a story bringing a lot of history together in a short period of time. They can only tell part of the story, but I think it was very well done."
The burial, conducted in 40-degree weather, was completed with full military honors. Included in the ceremony was a caisson pulled by six white horses, an escort party, casket team, firing party that shot off a three-rifle volley, along with The U.S. Air Force Band and a bugler to play taps.
The U.S. Air Force Honor Guard presided over the burial. Shortly before the ceremony began, the 113th Wing, also known as the "Capital Guardians," flew over the gravesite in a four-jet flyover in "the missing-man" formation in honor of the life and service of Weathers.
"The Tuskegee Airmen were dedicated heroes who gave so much for this country," said Brig Gen. Jeffrey Johnson, 113th Wing commander, in a media release. "It is an honor to perform a flyover for this brave American."
At the end of the ceremony Air Force Chap. (Col.) Charles Cornelisse, presented the American flag to Weathers' widow.