William R. White, a former member of the famed squadron of African-American pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen, has died. He was 88.
White was a humble family man who rarely talked about his war experiences, family members said Wednesday. White died July 24 at his home in Smithfield, his son Brandon White told The Associated Press.
Brandon White and his sister Inetha Holmes said they did not learn that their father was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II until a couple of years ago. As children, they would ask him about an Army Air Corps photo that he had, but he would not say much about it.
"He wouldn't go into detail about anything," Brandon White said. "He was very humble, humble to a fault."
William White, a Smithfield native, was drafted into the Army Infantry in 1945. He transferred to the Army Air Corps, and then was assigned to the 99th Pursuit Squadron and 332nd Fighter Group. He said during a 2013 talk at the Isle of Wight County Museum that he serviced the unit's planes to keep them in the air, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the U.S. military's first African-American aviators. The group went on to take part in more than 1,500 combat missions, earning more 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses.
In a 2013 interview with WVEC-TV, William White said he and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen had to fight two wars, one with the enemy and the other with racism.
"Everything we did we had to fight for it," he said. "And they wanted us to fail, but they forgot one thing. We, as blacks, we were very gifted. And gifts come from whom? God. And that's how we made it."
Brandon White said his father did what he felt he had to do in regards to serving in the war.
"He would always say that, 'America was the only home I know,'" he said.
Funeral services will be held Thursday.