FORD ISLAND, Hawaii --
On Feb. 8, 2014, visitors to the Pacific Aviation Museum can catch a glimpse of history during Hangar Talk, 2 p.m. at Ford Island.
In honor of Black History Month, the museum is hosting special guests, including Dorothy Goldsborough, a spouse of a Tuskegee Airman, and former Tuskegee Airman Philip Baham for a presentation, entitled “Tuskegee Airmen: Then and Now,” highlighting the historical first African American pilots to serve in the military.
Goldsborough, a member of the local Baham-Goldsborough Chapter of national nonprofit Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., is a professor at the College of Social Sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Her spouse, Romaine, was a Tuskegee Airman assigned to the 302nd Fighter Squadron, who passed away last August.
Baham was a crew chief for the 337th Composite Group at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Now 92 years old and also a member of the Baham-Goldsborough Chapter, Baham currently resides in Honolulu, and volunteers at the museum, greeting and chatting with visitors.
“We want to take every opportunity we can not only to feature him but also to hear from him,” said Shauna Tonkin, the director of education at the Pacific Aviation Museum.
The museum hosts Hangar Talk monthly, featuring a broad range of aviation-related topics. Tonkin said while many of the museum’s programs cater to youth, Hangar Talks are geared toward adults interested in any of the featured topics.
Feb. 8’s Hangar Talk will start with a panel discussion featuring Baham, Goldsborough, and two active-duty service members from the Air Force. At 3 p.m., attendees will be able to chat with the guest speakers.
In June 1941, Tuskegee Institute offered pilot training for the first black recruits while Tuskegee Army Air Field was still under construction, according to “Tuskegee Airmen: American Heroes,” by Lynn M. Homan and Thomas Reilly.
Eventually, units such as the 99th Fighter Squadron and 332nd Fighter Group were established, according to the National Park Service’s website.
According to “Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation,” by Charles E. Francis, black service members at the airfield dealt with segregated facilities such as the officers’ club at Freeman Field in Indiana. Eventually, more than 100 officers of the 477th Bombardment Group were arrested for entering the club against regulations established by 477th Bombardment Group commanding officer Col. Robert Selway.
Baham, a native of New Orleans, was drafted into the Army Air Corps when he was 18 years old. He spent seven years with the Army Air Corps, and while visiting Hawaii, took a job at then-Naval Station Pearl Harbor as a carpenter, eventually moving on to serve more than 20 years in the Merchant Marines.
While at Tuskegee Army Air Field, Baham experienced racism firsthand.
“Being in uniform meant nothing,” Baham said. “You try to get (supplies and the suppliers) tell you they don’t have it … (and it’s) sitting right there on the floor.”
Baham said he also lived in Wood Barracks, where cold wind would blow through the interior. He recalled having to sleep wearing an overcoat to bed, and using extra blankets to keep warm.
“The conditions we had were pathetic,” Baham said.
Baham was working aboard the airfield when then-first lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited. Eleanor Roosevelt requested a flight with Charles Anderson, the first African-American to earn a pilot’s license, according to The George Washington University’s website.
The GWU website also stated the Tuskegee Airmen carried out more than 1,500 missions.
“When the war ended, the Tuskegee Airmen returned home with one hundred and fifty Distinguished Flying Crosses, Legions of Merit and the Red Star of Yugoslavia,” reads the GWU website. “The group was deactivated in May 1946 but its success would contribute to the eventual integration of the United States military.”
Two years later, July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which formally ended segregation in the armed forces, according to the National Archives’ website. On April 11, 2006, the Tuskegee Airmen were approved to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, according to the U.S. House of Representatives website. More recently, Hangar 2 and the Skyway Club are scheduled to open Feb. 15 at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Tuskegee, Ala., with new exhibits.
The next Hangar Talk is scheduled for March 8 at 2 p.m. at the museum, featuring author Donna Knaff, the author of “Beyond Rosie the Riveter: Women of World War II in American Popular Graphic Art.” For more information, visit http://www.pacificaviationmuseum.org.