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‘Cardinal Charlie’: Visited by one of three Tuskegee airmen from Dogpatch

Published 10:43pm Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Not too long ago, I received an e-mail from one of my book readers, who I’ve had some correspondence with in the last few years.

gillHe told me he was going to be in Dowagiac on a certain date and was planning on coming to see me.

He is Jack Bryant, a 1945 DHS graduate.

When he finally got here to meet me on Friday the 19th it was at 6 p.m. and I was fortunate to get to visit with him for nearly two hours.

Jack is three years older than me, but I can remember him playing basketball as the tallest man on the team.

Jack has lived in Massachusetts for some years and, in 1976, founded Boston-based Bryant Associates, a civil engineering firm.

We had a good time in looking at some of my old Dowagiac pictures and reminiscing about old Dowagiac people we both remembered.

Also, I showed him some of my old Wahoos and we went through his of 1945.

Jack and his older brother Joseph, Class of 1943, were two of the three Dowagiac boys who were Tuskegee fliers.

The third Dowagiac boy was Richard Harrison, the older brother of my friend, Chauncey.

Richard was a pilot here in Dowagiac when I was taking flying lessons and he gave me some of my lessons (I’ve written about him in one of my columns years back).

I think it’s quite unique that three of these famous fliers were from the little town of “Dogpatch.”

In Washington, D.C., in 2007, Jack was one of the 300 survivors of the 996 Tuskegee airmen whom President Bush and congressional leaders honored with one of the nation’s highest honors, the Congressional Gold Medal.

At this award ceremony, Secretary of State Colin Powell thanked the airmen who paved the way for his own career in a post-segregation military.

When I told my friend Bob Short that I was to have a visit from a Dowagiac boy who was once a Tuskegee flier, Bob gave me a DVD disc, a two-hour movie called “The Tuskegee Airmen.”

It was so good I watched it twice.

The film was supposed to be a true story.

In talking with Mr. Bryant, he confirmed the movie was all true.

It was how the Tuskegee boys got started in 1941.

The quite famous 332nd Fighter Group known as the Red Tails never lost a single bomber while escorting them on combat missions over Europe (Germany).

They were mostly those big B-17s.

In the movie, President Roosevelt’s wife was at the Tuskegee base and asked to be taken for a ride with one of the regular pilots, not the colonel who was head of the base (Jack told me this was true and named the pilot who took her up).

It was her influence that made it possible to have these guys fly combat in Europe.

The Tuskegee airmen of the 332nd Group flew 15,000 combat missions during World War II.

About 150 perished in training or combat. The 450 pilots in the European theater of operations earned 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

“Cardinal Charlie” Gill writes a nostalgic weekly column about growing up in the Grand Old City. E-mail him at cardinalcharlie@hotmail.com.

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