Tuskegee Airman returns to the skies after 70 years

Photo: Courtesy Kele Fergerstrom

One of the famed Tuskegee Airmen from World War II returned to the skies Wednesday morning.

At the age of 92, retired Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson relived memories of flying in formation more than 70 years ago when he took off in a Stearman Biplane, the primary trainer aircraft for World Ward II aviators and one of two in Hawaii.

“(It) takes me back – nothing like an open cockpit of a Stearman,” said Lt. Col. Jefferson.

Pilots Alan Miller and David Prince had the honor of taking the World War II hero high above Oahu’s North Shore. “I think it took him back to his childhood,” Miller said. “This is the airplane he learned to fly in.”

Jefferson was only 22 when he arrived at Tuskegee University in Alabama and was one of 994 men who became fighter pilots. He flew 18 combat missions over Germany but on his 19th, he was shot down and spent nine months as a prisoner of war. “I did it for my country, absolutely,” he said.

But like many Japanese-American soldiers of the 442nd, the Tuskegee Airmen battled on two fronts, the enemy in Europe and racism at home. “Under the circumstances, you did the best you can and you knew what you had to endure and meet the program,” said Lt. Col. Jefferson. “Let’s face it so we did it and we succeeded.”

For years, Hawaii’s aviation community has reached out to veterans like Jefferson so they can continue to share their stories.

In the meantime, Jefferson is making new ones.

“I had darn good time to relive my life and experience,” said Lt. Col. Jefferson. “Now, I can dream about that Stearman.”

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