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Posted Oct 17, 2011, 10:51 am
A member of World War II's storied Tuskegee Airmen died at age 90 in Tucson on Saturday.
Lt. Col. Luke Weathers Jr., one of the Army Air Force's pioneering group of black fighter pilots, will be buried with full honors in Arlington National Cemetery, the Arizona Republic reported Sunday.
Weathers, who shot down two German fighters that were attacking the U.S. bombers he was escorting, served from 1942-1945.
"They never lost a bomber," his son, Luke Weathers III, told a Memphis TV station.
Weathers flew P-51 and P-39 fighters, receiving a Distinguished Flying Cross for his service.
Along with fighting the enemy, Weathers and his fellow airmen had to struggle against racial discrimination and a military that was actively segregated.
He, along with 300 other Tuskegee Airmen, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007.
The members of the all-black unit, named for its training base in Tuskegee, Ala., performed so well that they helped push the 1948 decision by President Truman to desegregate the military, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of the medal.
"Their unwavering commitment to protect and serve their country even in the face of segregation and discrimination is an inspiration befitting the highest congressional honor," she said.
"People should know this is a great American icon that has passed from us," retired Air Force Col. Richard Toliver of Goodyear, a fighter pilot in the Vietnam War, told the Republic. "We've been blessed to have him among us."
When he met Weathers, "there was no bravado or bragging," Toliver said. "He was a kind, humble person always willing to be engaged and doing things for his country and for his community.... He worked to open doors for women and minorities."
Weathers' daughter, Wanda Weathers Smith of Coolidge, said that having grown up decades ago as an African-American child in the South, she is fortunate because her father broadened her horizons.
She said her father was ahead of his time in that before integration, he took his family to the otherwise all-White St. Therese-Little Flower Catholic Church in Memphis, Tenn., in the early 1960s.
Her father didn't make an issue of racism.
"There was no Black or White in our house, they were just people," she said.
Weathers, who went on to become the first black air traffic controller in Memphis, had lived in the Tucson area for seven years.
"He passed in his sleep," his son told WMCTV.
Weathers is survived by his wife, Jacqueline, of Hyattsville, Md.; five children, Luke Weathers III of Drummonds, Tenn.; Wanda Weathers Smith of Coolidge; Andre Weathers of Memphis; Renee Powell of Tucson; Trina Weathers Boyce of Memphis; and 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, the Republic reported.