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NEWS | Feb. 22, 2012

National treasure: Tuskegee Airman imparts history to aviation Soldiers

By Army National Guard Sgt. Darron Salzer National Guard Bureau

FORT BELVOIR, Va. - Not many people are considered a national treasure, and if you mention that William T. Fauntroy Jr. is, he'll simply smile back at you and continue on with one of his many humorous stories about the time he spent as a Tuskegee Airman.

Fauntroy's experience with the Tuskegee Airmen, as he tells it, began in July of 1944 after he qualified and passed a battery of tests that certified him to enter the Army Air Corps as a pre-aviation cadet at Tuskegee Army Air Field.

"It wasn't until May of 1945," he said to a crowd of Soldiers and family gathered to hear him speak at an Operational Support Airlift Agency event, "that I went into training to become a pilot, but in the meantime I did a lot of things that made me proud, made me angry, and made me thankful."

One moment of pride, he said, was when he was asked to teach a sergeant - a superordinate - how to write and spell his own name. "That job was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life," Fauntroy said, who at the time had not completed high school.

Fauntroy was eventually placed into class 45-I, and his training began with 10-weeks of pre-flight training - learning how to identify different aircraft, radio codes, and different types of weather. For Fauntroy, what stands out most about his training during those first 10 weeks were his experiences he had with the "upper classmen."

"They couldn't touch you, but they could wake you up in the middle of the night and have you do whatever they wanted you to do," he said. "What they had you do wasn't meant to be malicious though, it was meant to teach you that no matter what, there is always going to be someone above you telling you what to do."

Another hard lesson learned for Fauntroy came while he was learning how to engage other aircraft in mid-air combat.

"A buddy of mine, who had come back from overseas, taught me how to dogfight," he said.

"He said 'whatever you do, don't put your nose on his tail - put your nose on his canopy and you can't lose him.'"

Fauntroy said when he took this knowledge with him into the air the next day, "I put my nose onto [my flight instructor's] canopy and he did a lot of things and I wouldn't let him go. He finally did a roll and when he came out of the roll, I was sitting on him.

"I got cocky and picked up my microphone and said 'ye-te-te-te-te-te, gotcha!' Not only did he hear it, but everybody in the air did too, and when I got back to the base they had me in the ready-room for about half an hour - making me do pushups and everything they could, all while I had on my parachute."

According to Fauntroy, class 45-I finished their basic flying training shortly after the Japanese surrendered, "so we were considered surplus and given the choice of either getting out, or finishing our training."

This is where Fauntroy, who refers to himself as "little Willy," saw his time end with the Tuskegee Airmen - who later came to be known as the Red Tails - but his aviation spirit continues on.

When asked to speak to an aviation command, Fauntroy said it'd be just like coming home, said Army Sgt. 1st Class James Fontenot, the Operational Support Airlift Agency equal opportunity advisor.

"When I went to meet Mr. Fauntroy at his home right here in Washington, D.C., I recognized that as he was speaking, he was telling me things about history that is written, things that have not been written, and things that need to be corrected.

"He and the colleagues that he trained with and those that went to fly abroad over Germany did not know they were making history," Fontenot said. "They thought it was an experiment that would go away eventually, but it turned out that they broke a barrier for so many others to follow."

Fauntroy was invited Tuesday to speak to Soldiers and family members of the Operational Support Airlift Agency, a National Guard activity that is responsible for the flight standards of all Army component fixed-wing aircraft,

The success of Fauntroy's visit was evident in the satisfied remarks of OSAA leadership, who approached Fontenot and said how pleased they were.

"It was very important to have Mr. Fauntroy here," said Army 1st Sgt. James Newcomb, the first sergeant of Headquarters, Headquarters Company, OSAA.

"This is something so historically intriguing," he said. "As aviators we [often] don't know that we have someone who made a way for them to be here at OSAA.