SHANNON — The Rev. James Jimmy Jones, a member of the acclaimed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, said that even after proving their abilities during the war, members of the U.S. Air Force’s first air squadrons manned by black pilots and support staff were treated like second-class citizens when they returned home from the war.
“We flew 200 missions and lost fewer bombers than any other fighting squadron in the U.S. Air Force,” said Jones, a Robeson County natives. “We were considered heroes the way we fought in the war, but when I came home I couldn’t even go into an ice cream shop and get an ice cream sundae.”
Jones, who is the associate pastor at Hilly Branch Missionary Baptist Church, was the featured speaker Sunday at the annual Black History Month program held at St. John Baptist Church in Shannon. Bebruary is Black History Monday.
About 75 people attended the event and received a history lesson from Jones on Tuskegee Airmen.
Jones said he likes to educate people, especially young people, about the fighting unit that made history when it shattered racial barriers.
“Especially our young people haven’t heard about the Tuskegee Airmen,” Jones said. “It isn’t taught in the schools, and as far as I know there are only two history books in the (Robeson County) library that mention the Tuskegee Airmen.”
According to Jones, the group of airmen that once numbered 16,000 now numbers only about 300 living members. He said the Tuskegee Airmen, which comprised the 332nd Fighter Group and and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Corps, thrived and fulfilled its missions despite being contained and discriminated against both within and outside the military.
“We had two enemies to fight,” he said. “One was the outside enemy and the other was internal, or Jim Crow.”
Jones, who will be 90 in December, was a crew chief on a P-47, a fighter aircraft. He said his job was to put the plane in the air, make sure that the plane could perform its mission, and bring the pilot safely home. He was proud to serve as a Tuskegee Airmen and serve under B.O. Davis, who was the second black officer to graduate from West Point.
Jones received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2012 for his service as a Tuskegee Airman.
Jones told those at Sunday’s event that God has a plan for everyone to follow.
“God had a plan for the Tuskegee Airmen,” he said. “That purpose was to help fulfill President Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign promise that the U.S. Air Force was going to be integrated. Before Roosevelt was elected president there were no blacks serving in the U.S. Air Corps.”
The Rev. Dennis Mims, pastor of Saint John Baptist Church, said after Jones’ presentation that it is important for young people to hear from blacks like Jones who have overcome discrimination and other setbacks in their lives.
“It’s important to motivate and educate young people and make them aware that no matter who they are, they can accomplish their goals in life,” he said.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.