The story of the Tuskegee Airmen (11-10-17) None
SPOKANE, Wash.-- Long before the military we now know, a group of fighters determined to help our country win World War II were almost wiped from history.
They are known as the Tuskegee Airmen, and my grandfather Jose Rizal Elfalan was one of them.
"They wanted to make sure that their stories would never be forgotten and that's why they formed the organization," said my grandmother Bertha Elfalan, Jose's wife.
However, they were fighting more than just U.S. enemies during the war.
The men were almost unable to join the war in the 1940's because of something they could not control, the color of their skin.
"They were fighting two wars, one overseas and one at home to be equal," said Bertha Elfalan.
My grandfather Jose grew up in Louisville, Kentucky with a dream to fly.
However, at a time where racism divided the country, this did not seem possible.
"They were actually asking the question, could black people fly planes?" said my uncle David Elfalan, Jose's son.
Following a movement spearheaded by activists and political groups, black men were finally allowed to join the military in 1941.
However segregation was a shadow over that victory.
"You were classed as a second-class citizen, meaning that you were not as good as these people and you don't even deserve to go fight for your country and they had to prove, they had to prove that they were good enough to fight for their country," said David Elfalan.
My grandmother remembered the stories her husband could not forget.
"After dark you were free meat to the Klan, the police, anyone," she said.
Growing up, my uncle did not understand the will my grandfather had to fight.
"I asked him upfront, I said why would you want to fight for a country that disrespects you so much?" said David Elfalan. "They said compared to what the Nazis were doing, America is a great country," he said.
However, the Tuskegee Airmen trained hard because they had something to prove.
"They went through rigorous training to make sure they were ready to fly and not disgrace their race," said Bertha Elfalan.
The Tuskegee Airmen were made up of many fighter groups.
My grandfather Jose was part of the 477th bombardment group.
He was ready for battle, but just he before could go, history changed his destiny.
"Two weeks before they were supposed to be shipped over there Truman dropped the bomb, the H-bomb, and of course the war ended," said David Elfalan.
My grandfather may not have fought in the war, but he had known battle.
"They opened the door for blacks to participate in every, every aspect of the military," said Bertha Elfalan.
Jose Rizal Elfalan passed away in 1997, but he left his mark on history and his name inside the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
In 2007, the Tuskegee Airmen were fully recognized for their achievements when President George W. Bush awarded them the Congressional Gold Medal.
Surviving family members like myself are making sure they are remembered.