Our Golden Aviator: Tuskegee Airman James H. Fischer

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I dedicate this blog to my grandmother, Mildred Fischer Greene, as she was always the proud older sister of my Uncle Jimmie.  She never stopped wanting to tell his story. I want to thank my aunt, Helen Singh, for sending me the documents she inherited from my grandmother. James H. Fischer, was, and shall always be, our Golden Aviator. 


“On freedom’s wings bound for glory these intrepid men roamed the skies in defense of liberty for all men. Before the Air Force shattered the sound barrier, the Tuskegee Airmen shattered the race barrier. Their deeds will be forever etched in the annals of those who sought freedom and justice.”

—-The Original Tuskegee Airmen (1941-1949)

 

1st Lt. James H. Fischer

 

Uncle Jimmie Front and Center, 332nd Fighter Group, 301st Squadron

I was going to blog about the history of The Tuskegee Airmen and tell you all about them, but I have chosen not to do so at this time. Their service to this country is legendary. There are books, movies, and anyone can google the name “Tuskegee Airmen” and learn about the battles they fought on two fronts — racism here at home and Nazism abroad. No, this blogpost is solely about my Uncle Jimmie, a scrappy kid from Stoughton, MA who wanted to fly planes as long as he could remember. It’s about a young man who became a most unlikely hero who happened to be in the right place at the right time. It’s about a man who had a dream deferred, that then exploded, and shattered to the ground. Finally, it’s about my Uncle Jimmie’s dream, once shartered into pieces, rose up like seeds that had been planted, and allowed others to become the pilot he always wanted to be. It is because of men like him that others were able to suceed. This is my Uncle Jimmie’s story and I am blessed to be able to tell it.
 
 
 
This poem always reminded me of my Uncle Jimmie
 

Prelude to Tuskegee: Hometown Roots in Stoughton, MA

 
Map of Southeastern Massachusetts
 
 
The Mitchells (from left to right: Standing is Frank, Bill, and Charles  and seated my great-grandmother Helen, Anna, and Belle)
 
My Uncle Jimmie was born on March 11, 1924 in Stoughton, MA. He was the son of Helen Mitchell Fischer and Robert H. Fischer. He was born on the farm that my 2nd great-grandfather, James D. Mitchell, owned. James had been born in Petersburg, VA to two mixed race parents and moved to Boston where he owned a fish store. His wife, Julia Lennihan Mitchell was a first generation Irish-American born in Boston whom he married in the mid-1890s. After Julia died of tuberculosis in 1905, James moved his family to Stoughton which is about 25 minutes south of Boston. It was a better place for them with plenty of fresh air and they wouldn’t have to deal with the racism that was prevalent in Boston at the time.
 
 
Uncle Jimmie as a toddler
 
My great-grandmother, Nana Fischer as she was known, met Robert H. Fischer in NYC while visting her aunt, Laura Mitchell Wilson, around 1921. She brought Robert back home to live with her side of the family. Robert was said to have been the son of Cuban woman, who lived in Ponce, PR, and a man named Fischer who owned several stores in the Spanish speaking Caribbean. All we know about Robert, is that his mother died in childbirth, or shortly thereafter, and his Eastern European Jewish father brought him to NYC and left him in the care of another family. We don’t know much about Robert because he would later suffer a traumatic brain injury, as a result of a Stanely steam car engine explosion. One day he walked away from home in Stoughton, MA and never came back. Rumors swirled that he made it back to NYC, but I can’t find anything to confirm that though. He is one of my genealogy brick walls that I cant get pass yet. Maybe one day I will.
 
My Nana Fischer had to have her husband declared legally dead. She was a widow with three children to support — my Nana Millie, Uncle Jimmie, and her youngest son, my Uncle Sonny. Life was certainly not easy for her. She had to leave her children in the care of others and commuted to Boston to work each day. She did what she had to do in order to provide for her family.  She was not the most nurturing type of woman because of the hand that she had been dealt in life, but I have nothing but the fondest of memories of summers spent with her sewing, gardening, and cooking for us.  I will always remember my Nana Fischer as being stoic in the most New England of ways, resourceful, and brutally honest. She was known to tell it like it was and my Uncle Jimmie was just like her in that regard.
 
 
 
Marriage Certificate of Helen and Robert Fischer
Helen Mitchell Fischer, Mother of James H. Fischer
 
 
At the age of 4 years old, my Uncle Jimmie contracted tuberculosis and spent 4-5 years of his life living in a sanatorium until he recovered from it. According to my aunt, he had been taken to Florida on a visit and had contracted it there. By the time, he returned home, he was coughing. Tubercuosis is what caused the death of his maternal grandmother Julia. In the pre-antibiotic days, it was a killer. No one was immune. Because Julia had TB, her husband and children had been exposed and had to undergo repeated chest X-rays to see if they had active TB. In those days, people were sent to a tuberculosis sanatorium if they had an active case. This was a public health policy as there was no known cure for this illness.
 
 
Article on TB in The Boston Journal on 4/18/1917
Uncle Jimmie was sent to the Rutland State SanatoriumRutland was in Central Massachusetts and was quite a drive from Stoughton, MA. My Nana Fischer didn’t drive so she didn’t get to see her son that often the 4 years he was there.  She would visit him on his birthday and when her sister Anna could drive her there. Though a postcard image makes it seem to be a picturesque place, my Uncle Jimmie, of course, did not have pleasant memories of being there. He didn’t like to eat macaroni and cheese for the rest of his life because that was what he had to eat there. He also never got over how he had to share his birthday cake with the other children at the sanatorium. One slice of cake was all he got for his birthday. I can imagine how much that cake meant to him and the brief time he had to spend with his mother. Rutland State Sanatorium, by the way, was the first public tuberculosis sanatorium in the country and was opened in 1898.
 
 
Uncle Jimmie as a child
 
 
A postcard of Rutland State Sanatorium
 
Uncle Jimmie was about 8 years old and in 3rd grade when he returned home. He was a survivor to be sure having conquered a disease that killed so many people. He was just an average boy who went to school, did his chores, and got into trouble on occasion. Even as a child, it was said he was fiercely independent, had a short fuse, and loved playing with model airplanes.
 
Uncle Jimmie took a serious interest in planes around the age of 12 and 13 years old. By the time he was 16 years old, he was spending weekends at the Brockton Airport performing odd jobs so that he could secure a ride on plane and learn to fly. He would find a way to get to get to the airport by bumming rides or hitchiking.  In one interview, Uncle Jimmie said that he would be at the Brockton Airport every chance he could get. Working all weekend earned him a 15-minute ride in a plane. Brockton was the next town over from Stoughton and is where I was born. I never knew there was an airport in Brockton located on the Southside of Brockton near the West Bridgewater line. The Brockton Airport was routinely advertised in all the Boson newspapers in the 1920s and 1940s. According to my Uncle Jimmie, the airport closed with the advent of World War II and later re-opened afterwards.
 
 
Uncle Jimmie as a teenager
 
 
1932 Ad for the Brockton Airport
Ad for Brockton Airport

Ad for Brockton Airport

 

 

 

 

 

Answering Uncle Sam’s Call

Uncle Jimmie graduated Stoughton High School in June of 1942 and World War II had already begun the December before. He volunteered to join the Army Air Corp after he graduated. He took a physical and went through all the Army Air Corp tests. He was then told that there were only a few spots for Blacks in the Air Force and that they would pass his name on to Washington. He was told to go home, with a 6-month deferment, and wait to be called. He never got the call. One day he was strolling through the town and saw someone who was on the draft board. That person was surprised to see him still around so my Uncle Jimmie explained that he was waiting to hear back from Washington. Ten days later he was drafted into the Army. He sent the letter below to the Army Air Corp Headquarters in Washington, DC asking for further clarification.

 

02/01/1943 1942 letter to US Army Air Corp Headquarters

 

02/01/1943 Letter to US Army Air Corp Headquarters

 

His letter was to no avail. In an interview, Uncle Jimmie remembered that a colonel, a doctor, typed on his record “Qualified Aviation Cadet.” But, the other officers looked at it and stamped “Infantry” on it. Segregation was not going to make an exception for him. So, off he went to Biloxi, MS for basic training in the Army. Uncle Jimmie was lucky though, because 8 month later, he finally got into the Army Air Corp. He said that you had to have two years of college to get in, but, if you passed a test, they would send you to Tuskegee University in Alabama for a 6-month university and flight training program. Needless to say, he passed the test. It was always his dream to be a pilot.

Heading south to Alabama was not his first time being in the South though. Growing up in Stoughton, MA made him a little naive about segregation. He was only one of 4-5 black kids in his high school and was treated like all the rest. When he was 14 years old, he ran away for a couple of months and ended up in Georgia which was an eye-opener for him. He would tell the story of how he hopped on a train and rode to New Orleans and worked for a few weeks. He then hopped back on a train and ended up in Georgia. He found work at a salad pantry and was told to get some suet at the butcher’s shop nearby one day. The butcher, who was cleaning chickens, told him to cut the suet off of a side of beef which he did, but Uncle Jimmie ended up placing the suet too close to a pile of chicken intestines. This set the butcher off and he started to call my uncle names, including the N-word. Uncle Jimmie ended up whacking the butcher in the face with a bunch of chicken guts. In Stoughton, MA, calling someone the N-word led to fist fights, but, in the South, he said that the N-word was used way too often. Whacking a White man in the face could have also led to my Uncle’s death though. When he was told to run, he had sense enough to run and kept on running. He ended up having to call his mother and have her wire him the $15 for a bus ticket home. 

 

On Becoming A Tuskegee Airman: The Making of a Legend

Uncle Jimmie ended up at Tuskegee in the Spring of 1943. He was in the second or third class (44-G) of Tuskegee Airmen trained there. The Tuskegee Airmen included, not only pilots like my Uncle Jimmie, but also bombardiers, navigators, ground crews, medical staff, cooks, ambulance staff, and administrative staff. Most of the other Tuskegee Airmen were like himself — 18 and 19 years old.

All the flight training Uncle Jimmie received was done at the Moton Field (Tuskegee Army Air Field) at Tuskegee. In addition, Uncle Jimmie and the others took college courses at Tuskegee University which was a couple of miles away. As a Certified Aviation Cadet, Uncle Jimmie had a leg up on some of the other pilots. He had been hustling around the Brockton Airport for a couple of years by then. He was able to pay $3.50 for 15 minutes of flight time when the going rate was $12 an hour for flight instruction. He also bought aviation books in his quest for knowledge. His whole Brockton Airport experience taught him how to fly. But, at Tuskegee, he learned how to be a fighter pilot. Make no mistake about it, the Tuskegee Airmen knew they were up against the twin evils of racism and Nazism and they knew that they had to prove their naysayers wrong. They were Black excellence at its best and became the stuff that legends are made of during World War II. Failure was not an option for them and neither was it for the scrappy kid from Stoughton.

I also remember my Nana Fischer telling me the story of how she could only afford to buy a third class train ticket in the Colored section of the train to visit Uncle Jimmie at Tuskegee. She would tell the story of how the White train conductors would automatically assume she was White and tell her that a mistake had been made on her ticket. They would upgrade her to a First Class ticket and make sure she was in the White section of the train. She would always laughed because she felt she she pulled a fast one on them which she did. While my Nana Fischer could have “passed” as White, she never did.

 

Got My Wings Telegram sent to Uncle Jimmie’s mother

 

Uncle Jimmie was part of the 332nd Fighter Group, the first black military aviators in the history of the United States Armed Forces, and a member of the 301st Squadron. The 332nd Fighter Group was deployed to Italy in early 1944 and their job was to fly heavy bomber escort missions. Uncle Jimmie arrived in December of 1944 and remembered flying P-51 planes. By this time, the planes the Tuskegee Airmen flew were named “Red Tails” as they painted the tails of their planes red and were easily identifiable because of that. I will never forget going to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC and seeing one of those rinky dink planes. I called Uncle Jimmie from the exhibit and asked him if he really flew one of those planes. He just talked about how cutting edge they were at the time and I just stood there in disbelief. Just seeing a plane similar to the one he flew gave me a greater appreciation of just how important the Tuskegee Airmen were to this country during a time of need.

 

332nd Fighter Group

 

Uncle Jimmie and friends

 

A member of the 332nd Fighter Group Officers’ Club

 

My Uncle Jimmie was awarded a Purple Heart, 3 Bronze Stars with Two Oak Leaf Clusters, and a Distiguished Unit Badge for his service in World War II. He fought in the Battles of Rhineland (Germany), North Appennines (Italy) and Po Valley (Italy). He became well-known for having been shot down over Yugoslavia, an event that earned him a Purple Heart. In John B. Holway’s book, Red Tails Black Wings:The Men of America’s Black Air Force, Uncle Jimmie recounted his experience:

 

From the book Red Tails Black Wings, p. 264

From the book, Red Tails Black wings, p. 265

From the book Red Tails Black Wings, p. 266

 

The son of a single mom, a tuberculosis survivor, and a teenage runaway, who managed to graduate from high school, my Uncle Jimmie had the deck stacked against him, but he was determined to live his dream of becoming a pilot—– fighting for a country that still saw him, and his people, as unequal before the law. Uncle Jimmie would tell stories of how Axis Sally would taunt the Tuskegee Airmen. He said he would laugh at the things she would say because they were true in terms of the overt racism that existed back then. Even so, he acknowledged that this country was the only country known to Blacks who have fought for it from the beginning. With roots in Boston, Uncle Jimmie had no problem reminding people of the bravery of Crispus Attucks.

 

Flight Officer James H. Fischer in 1945

 

Pittsburgh Courier article from 04/07/1945

 

James H. Fischer’ Certificate of Valor

 

301st Fighter Squadron Accolades

 

Uncle Jimmie was given a week off at a R &R camp in Naples after his plane went down over Yugoslavia in April of 1945. World War II ended a month later. He spent the Summer of 1945 attending the University of Florence. Uncle Jimmie returned home in October of that year thinking he would stay in Air Force. He went back to Tuskegee and then to Lockbourne Air Force in Columbus, OH working various military jobs.  In the Fall of 1946, he left the Air Force for good hoping to get a job as a commercial airline pilot.

In 1948, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981 which led to the desegregation of the United States Armed Forces. The Tuskegee Airmen were no doubt one of the reasons that this order was issued.

 

The Executive Order 9981

 

Becoming Bitter: What Happens To A Dream Deferred? 

My Uncle Jimmie came home and started applying for jobs at the major airlines at the time.  Everything would be fine until he showed up for an interview. Then, he would be politely told that there were no jobs. Uncle Jimmie always said that getting into civilian aviation was harder than getting into the military because of racism. It would be in the 1970s before there would be Black pilots flying for the major airlines. The only pilot jobs he was able to get was a job as an instructor at the Brockton Airport, a pilot who towed advertising banners for a chain of drive-in theaters in Brockton, and as a crop duster flying pesticides over New England from Maine to Massachusetts. He was employed as a pilot for 3-4 years. And then his dream died a slow festering death before exploding into a sea of bitterness.

 

Pittsburgh Courier, 10/27/1945

 

Uncle Jimmie left Massachusetts in the mid-1960s and went to California where his younger brother Sonny and his aunt Belle lived. He took on a variety of jobs to eek out a living without any government help. There is nothing spectacular to tell here about his life. His bitterness at not being able to be an airline pilot lingered for almost as long as he lived. He tended to look upon his WW II experience as somethimg that he did. But, at the same time, he would say that The Tuskegee Airmen were “just niggers who flew planes.” Those were HIS words and I will not sanitize what he said or how he felt. Now, he didn’t actually believe that because he knew what they had done and how important they were to this country. This statement was his way of describing how The Tuskegee Airmen were treated when they came home to this country meaning that they were good at being pilots only when the United Stares needed them otherwise they were just “n*****s,” a derogatory term that was, and unfortunately still is, commonly used to refer to Black people. He would often tell a story about how some Tuskegee Airmen were denied entrace to an American restaurant, but White servicemen allowed some captured Nazis to accompany them to the restaurant. It was not lost on him that, if he had been a White man with the military record that he had, he would have definitely been able to get a job working for a commercial airline.

We always heard about Uncle Jimmie from both Nana Millie and Nana Fischer. I remember meeting him for the first time in in 1981 at a family reunion. When my great-grandmother died in 1986, he came back East for her funeral. We had grown up knowing her youngest brother, my Uncle Sonny, because he brought his family back home often enough that we knew his daughters— two who were around my age. It was months after Nana Fischer died that Uncle Jimmie came home for good to help my grandmother settle her estate. By that time, he realized that he needed to be around family especially after he had a stroke in 1983 that left him with seizures. I always felt that my Nana Fischer sent him to us to ease the pain of her passing. We were also happy to have him back home with us.

For my siblings and cousins, Uncle Jimmie was a stark contrast to our grandmother. Whereas my Nana Millie was cautious with everything she said and was very proper, he was the exact opposite. He was very cantakerous. I usually refer to him as being a Black Archie Bunker in terms of his character. He spoke his mind and didn’t care how you felt. He was also that loving uncle who would give us lottery tickets at Christmas time, would celebrate his shared birthday with my cousin Mandi each year, would tell us the stories of his youth, and would send me subscriptions to The Smithsonian and National Geographic magazines. As a life-long bachelor with no kids, his nieces and great-nieces and nephews were surrogate children to him.

 

Once An Older Sister, Always An Older Sister

 

My Uncle Sonny, Nana Millie, and Uncle Jimmie

 

My Nana Millie was my Uncle Jimmie’s biggest and loudest cheerleader. She always looked after him. When he came back to Brockton in 1986, she made sure he got what was due to him from the Veteras Administration. She was also able to get him into a senior citizens apartment complex a few streets over from her house. She would take him shopping, take him to his,doctor appointmemts, and would cook for him on occasion. As the years went on, Uncle Jimmie came to rely on her memory of Word War II and her recounting all of his escapades because the stroke he had affected his memory. My Nana Millie loved telling his story and always added how she and others felt about the Tuskegee Airmen. She would also add her memories of the war as my Grandad also served in the Army in France. I am so lucky to have two transcripts of interviews they did together for a couple of books on the Tuskegee Airmen as well as for the Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project. When I read the transcripts, I can visually see them talking to each other the way they always did.

 

HBO’s The Tuskegee Airmen movie

 

When HBO premiered The Tuskegee Airmen movie in 1995, Nana Millie, Uncle Jimmie, and other relatives watched it. Though a fictionalized account, the movie brought The Tuskegee Airmen story to a much larger audience. Uncle Jimmie had no idea just how inspiring the Tuskegee Airmen were to many people until the movie came out. Caught up in his own bitterness, he didn’t know, or certainly didn’t realize, that the seeds he and the other Tuskegee Airmen planted took root and grew into a field of new dreams for others. Even if Uncle Jimmie didn’t become the pilot he wanted to be because of racism, he and the other Tuskegee Airmen were heroes to the generations that came after them who had full knowledge of the battles they went up against and how they still suceeded despite the odds.

I was lucky enough to be surrounded by my elders growing up. I was that fly on the wall who listened to their stories over and over again so that they became etched into my memory. I heard Uncle Jimmie’s story enough times from enough relatives that his story became OUR family story. We were proud that he was a famed Tuskegee Airmen. I also remember the pain, anger, sadness, and bitterness he felt at being denied the future he so wanted for himself. I couldn’t imagine what it must have felt like to have society dictate how far you could go in life and to have dreams that went unrealized because of the color of your skin and not because you didn’t dream big enough or bold enough. But, just because you were born Black in America. As a child born after the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-1960s, it was our generation that was the first generation that our elders placed their hope in for a better future that was unencumbered by the constraints of racism as they knew it. I’ve always been cognizant of the price my ancestors paid for me to live the life that I live today. They sacrificed so many dreams of their own hoping that their descendants would be able realize theirs. I have always felt that I couldn’t let them down because they were counting on me to do better than they had in life.

In March of 2007, I called my Nana Millie as I routinely did a few times a week. I was raised by my grandmother and had her around longer than I did my own mother who died at the age of 47. She was a second mother to me and we were very close. She didn’t sound like herself when she answered the phone that day so I asked her what was wrong. She said that Uncle Jimmie had received an invitation from Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) inviting him to the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor Ceremony in Washington, DC because The Tuskegee Airmen were being awarded the Gold Medal. She had told him about it and he said he wasn’t going. His bitterness still festering even after all these years. I immediately told her not to worry and that I was going to call him. He was going to go no matter what because this honor wasn’t about just Uncle Jimmie now. It was about bringing honor to our family by celebrating Uncle Jimmie’s wartime record and the legacy of the each and every one of the Tuskegee Airmen. It was about correcting an historical wrong and making it right—- even if it did come sixty years after the fact. Uncle Jimmie NOT going to this event was never an option. My Nana Millie wished me good luck in trying to get him to go. I told her that I would call her back after I spoke to him. 

So, I called Uncle Jimmie. The conversation went like this: 


Me: Uncle Jimmie, what’s this about you not wanting to go to DC? 

Him: We were just niggers who flew planes. That’s all we were before and after. 

Me: Uncle Jimmie, I hate to tell you this, but this is not about you anymore. It’s about family honor. You’re going. 

Him: I don’t have any money to go. 

Me: Everything is being taken care of so you don’t have to worry. This is a family affair. 

Him: I have epilepsy [He didnt actually have epilepsy, but had seuzures from the stroke he had.] and I can’t go alone. 

Me:  I am coming to get you so you don’t have to worry. 

Him: I don’t have anything to wear.

Me: I think Nana and Auntie said they were going to buy a new suit.  

Him: OK, I guess I can’t get out of this.  

Me: No, you can’t.  It’s about family honor and you finally getting your due! Now,  I have to call Nana back and tell her your going.

 

Needless to say, when I called Nana Millie back, she made a joyful noise unto the Lord. That proud sister felt prouder than she ever had in the past. If anyone, other than Uncle Jimmie, had waited for this day, it was her and I am glad they both lived to see this blessed day come to fruition in their lifetimes.

 

Washington, DC Bound: On Our Way to the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor Ceremony

 

I flew up to Boston on March 28,2007 to pick up Uncle Jimmie and take him to Washington, DC. He hadn’t been on a plane in decades and the post-9/11 changes to airline procedures took him by surprise. When asked to remove his shoes, he had more than a few choice words for people to hear. I remember passing the restrooms and asking if he had to use them and he near cussed me out. Ten minutes later, he said, “Doll baby, where is that bathroom again?” I knew then and there that it was going to be an interesting trip. My grandmother had warned me in advance how he was and she was right.

When we arrived at the gate, I went up to a crew member and asked if the pilot would make a special announcement that my uncle was a famed Tuskegee Airman who was flying to DC to be part of the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor Ceremony. I wanted my uncle to feel anything other than a “N-word who flew a plane.” To my surprise, no sooner than I had said “Tuskegee,” she had upgraded our seats to First Class. When I told Uncle Jimmie that we were flying First Class, he was happy. The look on his face when we made our descent into DC and the pilot mentioned that there was a very distinguished passenger on board named James H. Fischer, who was a Tuskegee Airmen pilot, and that he was heading to the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor Ceremony, was priceless. Believe me, he felt special when everyone on the plane broke out in applause just for him.

We arrived at the hotel that day and immediately were surrounded by other Tuskegee Airmen. Some instantly remembered my Uncle Jimmie. Lt. Col Harry Stewart  made a beeline for Uncle Jimmie who remembered him. For the most part, Uncle Jimmie remembered some, but not all of the Tuskegee Airmen who came up to greet him because of his stroke. Another pilot who Uncle Jimmie remembered was Lt. Col. Leo Gray, the other Tuskegee Airman originally from Boston. When they both saw each other, they gave each other a big hug and stood there beaming. Robert Lawrence was another pilot who Uncle Jimmie remembered as well. Though Uncle Jimmie couldnt remember all of them, they certainly remembered him. I enjoyed watching him converse with his old friends. I could see it meant a lot to all of them that they were reunited one last time for this event. Uncle Jimmie for the most part was really enjoying himself just taking everything in minute by minute.

 

Tuskegee Airmen pilots:Uncle Jimmie and Lt. Col. Harry Stewart

 

Tuskegee Airmen pilots from Boston: James H. Fischer and Leo Gray (Deceased-RIP)

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Tuskegee Airmen pilots: Uncle Jimmie and Robert Lawrence (Deceased-RIP)

 

Uncle Jimmie with Tuskegee Airmen

On the morning of March 29,2007, the day we had come to DC for had arrived. We started off going to a breakfast held in honor of The Tuskegee Airmen. At the breakfast, we watched a presentation about the history of The Tuskegee Airmen. It brought a lot of memories back to Uncle Jimmie and all the other Airmen. It was as if they were reliving their heyday. It was a great presentation with photos and interviews with Tuskegee Airmen, which featured  Lt. Col Lee Archer and Captain Luther H. Smith. Captain Smith reminded me of Uncle Jimmie as he wanted to be a pilot in his teens.

 

 

Tuskegee Airmen Breakfast Celebration

 

332nd Fighter Group

 

Tuskegee Airmen Breakfast Celebration

 

Lt. Col. Lee Archer (Deceased-RIP)

 

Tuskegee Airmen Breakfast Celebration

 

Captain Luther H. Smith, A Tuskegee Airman pilot and POW (Deceased-RIP)

 

Capt. Luther H. Smith as a teen with a pilot dream

 

We arrived at United Stares Capitol Rotunda for the 1 pm ceremony early. Uncle Jimmie and I were separated as they wanted all the Tuskegee Airmen to sit together. I tried to get a wheelchair for Uncle Jimmie, but he proudly refused one. I wasn’t going to argue with him, but I knew he probaby should have used one as he would be on his feet for a long time waiting to be seated. Sure enough, I saw him walk in holding onto the back of seats for balance. He later complained how his feet hurt. I could only sigh at that point.

 

Congressional Gold Medal of Honor Ceremony

 

Uncle Jimmie on the way to his seat

 

Congressional Gold Medal of Honor Ceremony

 

Congressional Gold Medal of Honor Ceremony

 

The best part of the ceremony for me was when then President George W. Bush stood up and said, “I would like to offer a gesture to help atone for all the unreturned salutes and unforgivable indignities of the past. The Tuskegee Airmen helped win a war, and you changed our nation for the better,” the president said. “On behalf of the office I hold, and the country that honors you, I salute you for your service to the United States of America.” Almost immediately, hundreds of Tuskegee Airmen jumped up and saluted him back. They had waited a long time for this day to come.

 

President George W. Bush saluting The Tuskegee Airmen

 

Uncle Jimmie near Gold Medal replica (front)

 

Uncle Jimmie with Gold Medal replica (back)

 

Uncle Jimmie holding His Bronze Medal of Honor

 

After the actual ceremony, we went to the Library of Congress for the reception. We were able to see more of Uncle Jimmie’s old friends again. We met Lt. Col. George Hardy and Dr. Roscoe Brown. The press was out in full force because this was definitely an historic event. I could tell, by that time, that Uncle Jimmie was completely overwhelmed by everything.

 

Tuskegee Airmen pilots: Lt. Col. George Hardy and Uncle Jimmie

 

Captain Luther H. Smith (Deceased-RIP)

 

Dr. Roscoe Brown (Deceased-RIP) and Cora Tess Spooner, Past President of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc

Library of Congress Reception

At the end of a long day

 

After a long day, we returned to our hotel and the next morning headed for the airport. Once again, we were upgraded to First Class. This time, however, the pilot of the plane let us board before everyone in First Class. He came to our seats and explained that he was the ex-squandron leader of one of formerly all-Black desegregated Tuskegee Fighter Groups and considered himself to be a part of the Tuskegee Airmen history. He told Uncle Jimmie how proud he was of him and all the others. He also asked to take a photo with Uncle Jimmie holding his Bronze Medal. Uncle Jimmie obliged him, of course, and would only say,”Wow.” Like on the flight to DC, when we made our descent to Logan Airport, the pilot came on and gave Uncle Jimmie an awesome shoutout and told everyone about how special he felt about having Uncle Jimmie onboard his plane.

When we finally arrived home, I asked him what he thought of the ceremony. Never a man of many words, he said, “It was excellent,” as he held up his Bronze Medal of Honor. “It was one of those things, you know, it was about time. I’ll put it that way.”And I said to him, “You were always a hero and now everyone knows.” 

I can definitely say that Uncle Jimmie never mentioned the N-word in reference to The Tuskegee Airmen after March 29,2007. Mission accomplished! I am so glad that I could accompany him to Washington, DC because it was an honor for me to witness history in the making.

While my great-uncle James Henry Fischer unltimately got his pension and due accolades at the end of his lifetime, I have to say that  my heart still hurts for my 3rd great-uncle, James Henry Green, a 2nd Lieutenant who fought for the 29th Infantry from Connecticut during the Civil War. My other Uncle Jimmie applied for a government pension thirty years after his military service ended only to die in an unmarked grave somewhere in NYC before he received it. When I think of the Uncle Jimmie that I knew, I will always remember my other older Uncle Jimmie as well.  God bless them both for their service to this country and may God bless each and every other veteran of color who fought and died for a country that did not honor them the way that it should have.

 

Arriving Home A Hero 60 Years Later

 

Four days after we arrived home from Washington, DC, Uncle Jimmie was featured on the front page of our hometown newspaper, The Enterprise.  He had been interviewed the day before and held up his Bronze Medal of Honor proudly. In the last three years of his life, he would go on to reap more awards and acknowledgements for his WW II service this country. A salute long overdue indeed.

 

The Enterprise

 

The Enterprise

 

Our Last Goodbye: Honoring Our Golden Aviator

Uncle Jimmie passed away on May 26,2010 in Brockton, MA. He was buried with full Military Honors on June 4th, 2010 and is interned, with our other ancestors, in Maplewood Cemetery in Stoughton, MA.  I wasn’t able to attend his funeral because of an illness, but I made sure my sister Lisa read a note for me at his funeral. I also sent a floral display to the funeral home for him. His funeral was a fitting end to a life lived.
 
 
1st Lt. James H. Fischer (1924-2010)
 
My brother Michael Vega placing flowers on Uncle Jimmie’s casket
 
My Golden Aviator flower display that I sent to his funeral
 
Memories of Uncle Jimmie
 
1st Lt. James H. Fischer Grave, Maplewood Cemetery

 

In closing, to the man I refer to as my Golden Aviator, you earned your wings on earth and now you can fly forever in Heaven.  Say hello to all my ancestor angels and let them know that I think of them often. Fly on, fly on, fly on.. . 

I will always love  and remember you.

Your great-niece Teresa

 

 

 

19 thoughts on “Our Golden Aviator: Tuskegee Airman James H. Fischer

    1. That makes to of us! It was an honor just to be in a room with such greatness and supreme excellence knowing all that they endured and overcame to prove themselves to this country. My Uncle Jimmie was a true American hero as was each and every other Tuskegee Airmen.

  1. Sweetheart, that was absolutely beautiful. I’m so glad you wrote that so I can share it with all my grandchildren and future generations.i got to spend a lot of time with Uncle Jimmy as a child when he lived with us in and off for years. He was funny. A real joker. A lady’s man, he was charming and handsome. He never forgot my birthday and never missed an opportunity to take me to see the horses (which was code for taking me to the race track). Then we’d go out for waffles. He never talked about his past. Neither did daddy. I was an adult with children before I learned about his place in history. The last time I saw him, I took him to dinner. We talked about Tuskegee for the first time in my life. It was an amazing moment for me. My life was so chaotic the week he died. I booked tickets to take daddy, but somehow screwed up the day. The airline would not help me change the tickets and I couldn’t afford to buy another set of tickets. I cried all day. I miss him, aunt Millie and my dad all the time. Thank you again for all the work you do to preserve our family legacy. Love you

    1. Cousin, I promised myself to tell the true stories of my ancestors. And yes, sometimes I cry, too! He was our unsung hero for so long. I was blessed to see the day when The Tuskegee Airmen received their Congressional Gold Medal of Honor— an Honor long overdue.

  2. Although I can never know this man in life, I am honored to know his grandniece and to learn about his honor, his courage, and him….and to know that, although way too late, he experienced the gratitude of those for whom he had flown and fought. Can’t help wishing that I could introduce him to my deceased, WWII, Purple Heart father. Perhaps they are now sharing stories.

    1. I bet they are talking about us now! I find comfort in believing that they both reside in the great above and are in the best place possible. God bless him as well for his service to this country, cousin.

  3. Incredible work, Teresa. It touched my heart! Consider putting all these posts into a book. You have a gift. And on that note, I need to find a box of Kleenex…

  4. Simply beautiful, this loving tribute to your uncle! It’s so nice to see that he finally was able to receive some of the accolades he earned over a half century prior. Thank you for sharing your family story.

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