Christ Community Church of Cincinnati had the unique privilege on February 3, 2013 of a visit by Tuskegee Airman, Mr. Leslie Edwards. Mr. Edwards was born on August 9, 1924 in Memphis Tennessee. His father died when he was five years old. He learned at a very early age the benefits of hard work and providing for one’s family.
In the military he rose to the rank of staff sergeant and Flight Chief and his unit had one of the best records in the military because his planes were always “mission ready”. He was part of a team handpicked by Commander Benjamin O. Davis Jr. to maintain planes that would be used in night flight operations to train navigators.
While stationed in Seymour, IN, Mr. Edwards witnessed firsthand the “so-called” Mutiny at Freemen Field on April 9, 1945. African American officers tried to enter the white’s only officers club and many were arrested. The officers knew they could have faced a court martial or even the firing squad for disobeying an order in war time. Mr. Edwards insist it was not a rebellious act, but done by African American officers to stress the importance of a fully integrated military. Mr. Edwards said, “Sometimes you just have to do the right thing.”
Mr. Edwards was critical of the movies about the Tuskegee Airmen, even the latest, Red Tails, by George Lucas. He referred to them as the “Hollywood” version of the story and full of inaccuracies. A few of the inaccuracies he mentioned were:
- The Tuskegee Airmen did not receive inferior aircraft and equipment but were provided the best the Air Force had to offer. Commander “BO” (Benjamin O. Davis) demanded the best equipment and training for his men as well as demanding the best from his men.
- It is inaccurate to say the Tuskegee bomber escorts did not lose bombers. They did have the highest return rating but “no one went up against the highly trained Nazi pilots in superior equipment and returned with no loses.” They witnessed many young white bomber crews plunge to their death.
- The movies fail to mention the number of white military and congressional leaders and people like first lady Eleanor Roosevelt who fought for full integration of the military or President Harry Truman who wiped out segregation in the Armed Forces by Executive Order in 1948.
- There is no mention of the many awards and citations the Tuskegee Airmen received including the Legion of Merit, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross. In 2006 they were awarded the distinguished Congressional Gold Medal. Mr. Edwards brought his medal for the audience to see.
Mr. Edwards has an extraordinary regard for the truth and letting the truth tell the story. He encouraged the audience to watch the documentary Double Victory, which is a more accurate portrayal of story of the Tuskegee Airmen. It is due to be aired on television in the near future.
A major theme Mr. Edwards stressed is that humanity is better together, with our diversity, than we are separately. He referred to segregation as an “evil” of our past that has hurt everyone in our nation. Several times his eyes welled with tears as he spoke of the hurt caused to both blacks and whites.
Mr. Edwards had some strong words for the youth; work hard and take advantage of the opportunities you have. Even though he dropped out of school to help his family financially, he was determined as a young man that he would work hard and provide for his family. The only government assistance he has ever received, that “I didn’t earn”, was a small bonus check received from the state of Ohio upon exiting the military.
After military service, he continued his education earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce at Salmon Chase College. He worked many years at Kahn’s Meat Producers and later in his career became a federal government meat inspector for about three years in Dayton, Ohio. He returned to Cincinnati as an Ohio State Meat Supervisor and is credited with helping improve the quality of the meat packing business in the state of Ohio.
Mr. Edwards attended the recent inauguration of President Barak Obama. Of the thousands of Tuskegee Airmen who served as pilots, mechanics and ground crews, 187 were present. Most were in wheel chairs escorted by their daughters. Mr. Edwards was one of the few that were able to walk out under their own strength. They were recognized as a significant part of history that led to an African American being elected as President of the United States.
Mr. Edwards’s dedication to his family, country and humanity in general was truly inspirational. After the service he was anxious to return home to his ailing wife. The Edwards will celebrate their 70th anniversary February 24, 2013.
After spending time on the phone and our brief time together at services, I can truly say that I have met a great American hero.
Pastor – Christ Community Church