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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

When a Clueless Teenager Interviewed Three History Makers

As I was sorting through a binder of old random papers, I came across something I hadn't laid eyes on for almost a decade: the transcript of an interview I'd done with three of the Original Tuskegee Airmen for a high school history project. 

Twenty. Years. Ago.

As a sheltered white, suburban, homeschooled teenager, I had no knowledge of the Tuskegee Airmen, beyond the fact that they were the first black pilots to serve in US history. And although I knew about segregation, I had no real understanding of its far-reaching ramifications and how it affected even those who were willing to serve a country that treated them as secondary citizens. 

I was incredibly grateful for the insight these men gave me into a history of which I was ignorant, but it wasn't until years later that I truly began to understand just how valuable hearing these firsthand accounts were. 
Since it's Black History Month (and coincidentally, Valentine's Day), I thought I'd share this small piece of history... 

**********Transcripted Interview**********

On May 8, 1997, I interviewed three Tuskegee Airmen who served in the Army Air Corps during WWII: Maj. Julius Calloway, Capt. Morris Washington, and Mr. Alvin LaRue.

Could you tell me a little bit about the Tuskegee Airmen and what they did?

Washington: My name is Morris Washington and I am one of the original Tuskegee Airmen. An original Tuskegee Airman would be any of those who served in the Tuskegee experiment between the years of 1941 and 1945. It would be hard to tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen in the time I have allotted here today, so I’ll give you a few ideas of what I experienced as a Tuskegee Airman.

It all started over a hundred years ago in 1896, and it was due to the rigid pattern of segregation that existed at that time in this country. In a case before the United States Supreme Court, Plessy vs. Ferguson, the court handed down a decision of “Separate but Equal.” This decision made the separation of white people and black people legal. In other words, segregation had become law of the land.

In 1925, when the Ku Klux Klan was at its zenith in our country, 40,000 Klansmen marched on our nation’s capital, spreading their message of hate. This message of hate infiltrated t osoe of the highest echelons of government, including the War Department, and even the Congress of the United States.

In 1945, when Adolph Hitler’s bombers were dropping bombs on London, England, causing all sorts of death and destruction, Prime Minister Winston Churchill was begging the United States for help in the war effort. About that time, there were many young black students in college around the United States, as schools such as Howard University, Hampton Institute, Virginia State, and North Carolina A&M. Some of these students had even earned degrees in science, chemistry, business administration, and other fields of higher learning. But when they tried to enlist their services into the elite, separate, white Army Air Corps, they were told it was inconceivable, and just simply out of the question.

Now, they say if you don’t know where you’ve been, you may make the same mistakes in the future. And these young students didn’t want to serve as their parents, fathers, and uncles had in WWI. They wanted to do even better; they wanted to serve in fields more commensurate with their level of learning. About that time, the commandant of the war party send a secret memo to the War Department. And the memo was titled “The Use of Negro Troops During a Time of War.” And it stated that Negroes, due to their mediocre African ancestry and their menial slave mentality, lacked the leadership ability and courage to serve along with whites in combat. It further stated that Negroes did not have the intelligence to fly anything as complicated as an airplane.

Well now, the dark press in this country did not take these false accusations lying down. In such newspapers as The Afro-American, The New York Amsterdam News,and especially The Pittsburgh Courier, in their editorials, they were able to bring so much pressure upon the War Department, that the Congress of the United States reluctantly appropriated just enough money to start a separate program for Negro flying training. And the way this program was set up, down in Alabama, it was set up in a manner in which they thought it was doomed to fail. And I’ll let Major Calloway take it up from there.

Calloway: Well like he said, they programmed it to fail, the War Department did. They had no intention of it ever succeeding. But the way it was set up, they went around to these different collages, like he mentioned, and they started what they called Civilian Pilot Training Corps. Now, they also had this for white colleges, but this was the Army Air Corps, and everything was separate back in those days.

So anyway, they went to these colleges, and recruited some black young men who were interested in flying. And these guys, they trained them to be instructors. They were civilians, college students, and they went through the Civilian Pilot Training Program, and graduated from there, and got their instructor’s rating. Then the War Department, they had the training for the Army Air Corps at Tuskegee, Alabama. Now there were other schools --one up in Chicago really wanted it-- but [the War Department] figured they’d put us way down South in Tuskegee, Alabama, and that would be the best place to have this.

This was the primary flight training, and those selected for training went to Tuskegee by way of basic training, which was in Biloxi, Mississippi. Then from there, you went to Tuskegee as an aviation cadet. And you actually lived on the campus, went to pre-flight training, then went on to primary flight training, where these black instructors I told you about were.

All our instructors in basic were black, and there was this contract with the War Department by Tuskegee Institute to train us. And if you made it through primary flight training, which lasted a couple of months… then you went on to basic flight training, which was the Army Air Corps base. It was operated by military, but we had a lot of civilian members of the Tuskegee Airmen; we had parachute riggers, mechanics, and a lot of them were female back in those days. We didn’t have any female flight instructors, but we did have them working in other fields. The Tuskegee Army Airfield was a small airfield, but it was complete: we had a hospital, we had everything. If you made it through basic, then you went on to advanced training, and then after that, you graduated. We graduated in November of 1944; Morris and I were in the same class.

Now, what they did, they started us from about ‘41 or ‘42, and as soon as they got enough student for one squadron, they formed the 99th fighter squadron. That’s the one people hear about; people think that’s all there was, but that was just one squadron. That happened to be the first squadron, and it was commanded by Col. Benjamin O. Davis. One of the first civilian instructors at primary when Davis went through was Chappie James.

Now, once the 99th was formed and trained, --and ‘course, they had, I forget how many pilots, around 28 or 30 pilots and about 400 ground personnel-- they were sent overseas to North Africa. In the meantime, each smaller class graduated; so more and more pilots kept graduating. Some went over there as replacements in the 99th. But most mainly formed the 332nd fighter group, and that was made up of three squadrons. And when enough of them were trained to go overseas, they were sent to Italy, and the 99th was brought from North Africa over to Italy. Now, most of the pilots in the 99th had already completed their tours, so they were pretty soon rotated back.

But the 332nd was the one that flew the combat patrol missions, and so forth, and escorted the bombers to and from Germany; and they never lost a friendly to enemy aircraft fire. And that was a record that no other fighter group accomplished. But all totaled, just round it off to a thousand --there were nine hundred ninety something-- but just say a thousand black pilots graduated from Tuskegee. And of that number, a little less than half went overseas, and the rest of us formed a bomber outfit. But anyway, that’s a little of the history of how it started, and on up.

LaRue: Now what happened here, see, these guys [gestures to Calloway and Washington] went to school as pilots. Well, when you get on a bomber, you have to have a crew, [and] a navigator, but they didn’t train those, because [the program] was supposed to fail. So these guys messed up and passed! So then, I came along, [and] they had to hurry up the navigators.

Now, as I said, if they had failed, they wouldn’t have needed us. So, they found out they had bomber crews flying around with no navigators on them, so they rushed us through school. And we came back to Godman Field [Fort Knox] and started this bomber group, and we were going to go to the Pacific, then they dropped the big bomb, and it wasn’t necessary.
But to give you a little idea of the trick that we had, we weren’t allowed in the Officers’ Club, period. They had a reason: it wasn’t racial, we were trainees. Now, Col. Davis had been up to University of Illinois, West Point, and had been in combat; he was a trainee. He couldn’t go to the club because he was in training. Now, that’s ridiculous. But every white senior officer we had was supervisory; every black one was trainee. That’s where you draw the line, see? And Col. Davis, with all his experience and training, he had to live in the guest house in Fort Knox, and that where he had to live.

Then one day, we woke up, and there wasn’t a one of [the senior white officers] on the field! They brought in all these black officers in that had been in combat, and replaced [the white officers]. But I don’t know why it was done so secretly… The officers they brought in were well-trained, but the way they had to slip them in, just like undercover. And the field they brought us in, we had very short runways. They were so short, at one end of the highway, there was such traffic, they had red lights out there like they have on the streets, so the traffic could stop so we could go across the road. And at the other end of the runway was a railroad track. So if you weren’t really flying good, you could hit something. On top of that, we had the best safety record in the First Air Force, even under those conditions.  

Calloway: Talk about how many squadrons you had. [To me] At one time, they had four squadrons.

LaRue: Yeah, we had four bomber squadrons. And that was all B-25 medium bombers, which carry six men, and carries about a thousand pounds of bombs. Well, [Mr. Washington] was a pilot; he’ll tell you about flying and his experience with it.

Washington: One other thing I’d like to say about the Tuskegee Airmen. When they were sent to North Africa, they were given more or less minor roles in the war. They were kept away from the action. But as the war progressed, they started working their way up through Sicily into Italy. But they were still getting poor grades, more or less. Col. Davis --[who] was a West Point man-- he had to come back to the United States and testify that, I mean, how can you become an Ace if you’re nowhere near the enemy planes?

Calloway [to me]: You know what an Ace is, don’t you?

It’s evident from the quizzical look on my face that I don’t, so they clarify.

LaRue: You have to shoot down five enemy planes.

Washington: So it would be impossible, you know what I mean, to show your skills if you’re nowhere near [the fighting].

LaRue: To tell you what they did, they had [the troops] ride through the railroad yards, shooting down boxcars, and stuff like that. Patrolling and come back and tell what you see, and all that type of stuff.

Calloway: Ground support missions.

Washington: So, [Col. Davis] convinced Congress that the reports that the Tuskegee Airmen were getting weren’t necessarily true or accurate. So, they gave them another chance, and gave them better assignments.

And when the war was at its height, the United States was losing quite a few of their heavy bombers, B-17s, B-24s, because the white pilots that were escorting these bombers to their strategic targets would leave the bombers and go after enemy planes to shoot them down. And they would leave the bombers to fend for themselves. So many heavy bombers were being lost, until they requested the Tuskegee Airmen to come and be their escorts. And Col. Davis, the commanding officer of the Tuskegee Airmen, gave orders to his men: “Stick with these bombers. If anyone runs off chasing a fighter plane for his own personal glory, he’ll be court-marshaled the next day.”

So, the Tuskegee Airmen never lost a bomber, never lost a bomber due to enemy fire. That’s one thing that the Tuskegee Airmen are noted for. And in 1948, through Executive Order, President Harry S. Truman integrated the Army Air Force in this country, and in bases all over the world. So I’d say that the Tuskegee Airmen would be due credit for that. And what you have to remember, is that this was before the days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Calloway: And the way that happened too, they talked with all the top generals in the Army --it was all Army, Army Air Corps-- and Truman asked how long it would take to integrate. Oh, they come up with a year, two years, six months, all that; Truman gave them 48 hours! I mean, things can be done when people give orders to do it. He said 48 hours, 48 hours, everything was done. There weren’t all these excuses.

LaRue: If you’ve ever read about Truman, you could understand the type of man he was like that. He’d let them talk, talk, talk; I think [Gen. Douglas] MacArthur was there and Eisenhower. [Truman’s] mind was made up from the get-go, but he wanted a compromise. And then when he found out, he said, “Well, I’ll tell ya: the buck stops here. 48 hours. Do it.” And that was it.

Washington: Well you see, when I first started off, I said that the Tuskegee Experiment was between the years of 1941-1949. Well, I think that it ended when President Truman integrated the Army Air Corps. And if you stop and think about it, the Air Corps just had its 50th anniversary this year at Thunder Over Louisville.

Calloway: The Air Force is a separate branch, it’s no longer connected with the Army. I went back [to the Air Corps after the war], and belonged to the actual Air Force. I retired from the U.S. Air force, after having been in the Army Air Corps.

Tell us about some of your background and how that prepared you and shaped your worldview for when you entered the service.

Calloway: It’s pretty interesting how [Washington] got into it and what happened to him.

Washington: Well, I’ll tell you, mine would probably be a little different than most of the fellas, because as a kid, I didn’t have a hobby. I never built any model airplanes or anything like that. I was born and raised in Atlantic City, New Jersey. And I went to high school in Atlantic City, and that was about the time the war broke out. And all my buddies had been drafted into the service. Things started getting a little lonely out on the streets.

One of my buddies came home on furlough, and he looked so nice in his new uniform. He had only been in the service about six months, and he came home on his first furlough. And it just so happened that he came up from Tuskegee, Alabama. He told me about this flying program that was starting up down there, and that I should get in on it. So, I went to the recruiters in Atlantic City, and told them I would like to enlist in the Air Corps, and go to Tuskegee, Alabama for flying training. And I stipulated that I didn’t want to enlist unless I was going down to Tuskegee. In other words, if they weren’t going to send me to Tuskegee, I’d just wait until I was drafted.

Well anyway, I enlisted, and they sent me to Fort Dix, New Jersey, to a reception center. And while I was at the reception center, a train pulled up, and I had orders to get on this troop train. And the next thing I knew, I was headed West instead of South. I rode all that day, and all night, and all the next day.

Where did you end up?

Washington: I ended up in a brand-new airfield outside the city of Denver, Colorado. It was called Buckley Field. And it didn’t take me long: I found out that Buckley Field was a service outfit. In other words, they were just there to police, do all the laboring work and everything for this air base. And I would be there for the duration of the war.

So while I was at Buckley Field, they had a manpower shortage up in North Dakota. And they sent me up to North Dakota --as a soldier, I was in uniform-- to shock wheat. And I remember plainly at nighttime, you could look at the sky, and you could see the Northern Lights. At that time, I wondered if I would ever get back home or if the war would ever end. And I just couldn’t imagine why I would be up there shocking wheat.

And I think I was up there about three weeks. And an inspector general came by and you can go up to a general like that and explain all your gripes. And I told him I enlisted and wanted to go to Tuskegee and everything. He said he would have some of his aides look into it. And if what I told him was true, he would see if something could be done about it.
So while I was up in the field one day shocking wheat, someone came up to me and said, “Washington, pack up your bags; you’re on your way to Tuskegee.” But I had to go back to Denver and take these examinations all over again. That was one of the stipulations, that if I passed the examinations the second time, I’d be on my way to Tuskegee. And so, I took the examinations over, and I was sent to Biloxi Mississippi. And I think that’s where everybody went before they got to Tuskegee, because they give you more examinations.

But in the meantime, a year had gone by, over a year, because I enlisted in 1942. And had I gone straight to Tuskegee when I enlisted, I would probably have been one of the first classes to graduate.

[To Mr. Calloway] What about you?

Calloway: Well I volunteered for the Army Air Corps; I went down and took a bunch of tests and all that stuff. And they told me to go home and wait; they’d call me. But in the meantime I was drafted. ‘Cause actually, I… was working on the Defense Plan. But I didn’t want to spend my time there; I was nineteen years old. I didn’t want to spend my time working seven days a week; I wanted to fly. I built model airplanes, I always wanted to fly. But at any rate, they drafted me.

They sent me up to Indiana; Fort Benjamin Harrison was the reception center. And most of them that were being drafted right there were being sent to the infantry. Every day, you hear about a group going to the infantry. And I said, “Oh boy, here I go into the infantry.” But anyway, they gave me a uniform and all that equipment. And I had narrow feet; believe it or not, this is true: they ran out of shoes. So they kept me an extra week, waiting on the next shipment of shoes. And once I got my equipment then I would’ve gone to the infantry. But while I was waiting, my paperwork caught up with me, where I’d applied for the Air Corps. And they asked me if I still wanted to go there. So they sent me down to Biloxi, Mississippi.

Everybody, no matter if you had been in the service before, like Morris, or what, if you were accepted, you had to go to Biloxi, Mississippi, for basic training. I went down there… then they gave us a whole lot more tests. I used to call them “stupid tests”: putting a round peg in a square hole, all kinds of silly stuff. Aptitude, dexterity tests, all that stuff. They maybe had some point, but I thought they were stupid. But you had to pass them; if you passed that, then you went on to Tuskegee. And you went through pre-flight training, and on to primary, basic, and then advanced training.

And they had a quota system we didn’t know about. I didn’t know about it at the time. No matter how good you might have been, if it comes time for graduation and your class was over the number that was supposed to graduate in that particular class, somebody had to be washed up. So they washed out, I forget, seven or eight guys in my class about a week or two before graduation. That’s not counting the ones that had been washed out along the way. There was a saying among the instructors, that they washed out the better pilots at Tuskegee that were graduating.

What about you, Mr. LaRue?

LaRue: Well, I did make model airplanes; had plenty of them at home. But I had no desire. As a matter of fact, I had never even seen an airplane on the ground before I went into the service. And I was raised here in Louisville.

But I was drafted. I was in school and I was drafted. They put me in the Navy, and I wouldn’t go. I mean, I would not go. So they got kinda huffy on me, and I said, “Well, take me to prison, but I will not go in the Navy.” So they called this captain over, and told him my story. He said, “Will you serve?” I said, “I will serve.” So the guy says, “Put him in the Army.” ‘Cause it wasn’t a big thing for him. But see at the time, the Air Unit was a part of the Army.

And then, after they found out you could read and write and add two and two,  they sent you off to school where it was fitting. When I was at Kesseler Field [in Mississippi] they had a bunch of men there who could not read or write. And they’d come out and ask us to read letters and write letters and help them with their reading. Now naturally, all they’d be able to do in the service is be in a service unit where they’d put gas in the planes and bring the bombs out. And they need those people, but at the same time, I was surprised that they’d even draft them. But they did.

So I told them I wanted to be in the Coast Artillery, ‘cause you have to be in ROTC and all that. And they thought about it, and said, “Well, how’d you like to be in the Air Force?” and I said, “Okay, I’ll go.” The funny thing about Calloway and I, we graduated from high school on the same night, on the same stage! We’ve been together a few years.

What kind of racism did you all face?

Washington [chuckling softly]: We weren’t even wanted.

LaRue: One of the problems was the locals.

Calloway: Well, to tell you about Tuskegee, at that time (‘cause it’s the heart of the South), they had a curfew. It was about seven o’clock at night, and we were living on campus at that time; I’m not talking about when we went to the base. But there was a curfew, and blacks had to be off the streets at seven o’clock at night. And it was just segregation wherever you go.

LaRue: Well, when I was in Texas, they told us the first day of orientation, the commandant of the base came up and told us this whole spiel of “I know a lot of colored people, and I’ve dealt with them, and I know them in Washington and Pennsylvania and we get along in this…” The [other] commandant got up and said, “I’m from Texas. I don’t need to say anything else.” The [first] commandant said, “As long as you’re on this vase, you will be treated as gentlemen. I can’t control the town.” So that told you a whole lot right there.

Washington: Let me say this: we were at a school, and a little white boy stood up and asked us, “Why would you fight for a country that didn’t even want you?” And so I told him that I was fighting for the United States because this is my country too.

In other words --as I said in the beginning about Plessy vs Ferguson and the message that the Ku Klux Klan had spread and everything-- it wasn’t the whole country, it was certain elements in the country that didn’t want us. And I will say this: this is my country too. I don’t know anything about China or these other countries; I was born in this country. And when I graduated from Tuskegee as a Tuskegee Airman, it was the proudest day of my life. And if I had to do it all over again, I would.

How did you deal with the way people treated you, and how did it make you feel?

LaRue: Well, we were on a train going from somewhere in the East to Texas. And we had meal tickets, sixty of us. And we stopped at this little restaurant --the train was going to be there for awhile for some reason-- and we go in, and the man said, “Yeah, I’ll serve you some meals, but you have to go around to the [back] door to pick them up.” We’re got going to eat there, now, we’re just going to take them back them back on the train. Sixty meals, and we’re going to spend all this money and we have to go to the back door to pick up the sixty meals. So the director (instructor) came back and told us, and we said we’ll just let them stay in there. I said we’ll sit on the train and just drink water until we got to where we were going!

But see, you just had to be one step ahead. There was always an obstacle; and you knew they were going to get you, and you know you’re gonna stumble, ‘cause they’ll put something in front of you to make you stumble. But you need to be ready to step over it. You need to be bigger than all these things they’re trying to throw at you, and that’s the only way we succeeded.

Calloway: When I was sent from the induction center to come to Louisville… I had a Pullman ticket that the Army had given me --it was a long train ride from Louisville to Biloxi, Mississippi-- I had a Pullman ticket in my pocket, and I gave it to the conductor. And he said, “No, you can’t go in no Pullman; you’ll have to go on this train,” which was a segregated car for blacks at that time. And I had two big old duffel bags. And I got on, and they didn’t even have my seat! I rode halfway to Mississippi sitting on my duffel bags in the aisle of the train! I was riding in the coach, and the coach was right behind the mail car. You had the engine --smoke engine in those days, it wasn’t diesel-- the mail car, then you had the car for the blacks. And you’d get all this dust and coal and stuff [blowing on you.]

LaRue: And another incident like that: I was in Hilton, Alabama headed for Louisville, and they made us get back so all the whites could get on the train. We had tickets, but that didn’t matter, because they had no seats [for us]. They said, if you want to get in the baggage car --and with those doors, you could fall out if you wanted to-- you still had to have a ticket. So we wanted to get home, so we climbed up. And like he said, that coal dust flying, you could almost start a fire, there was so much coal dust; we looked like we’d been working in the coal mines. But that was the only way we could get home.

Washington: Well, I’ll say this about racial segregation. I’ll be eighty years old on my next birthday. And I remember when I was a young man traveling around the country, how humiliating it was to go to the back door of a white restaurant to try to buy a sandwich. And how degrading it was to sit behind a curtain on the back of a Greyhound bus. And not being able to use a restroom because the sign on the door said “Whites Only.” It was wrong, it was unjust, and it was cruel.

But I’ll say this: this is not a perfect world. Wherever you go in this world you’ll find that it’s not perfect. They have Untouchables in India, and I watch television and see little kids starving in Africa and other countries. All we can do is strive to make it a better country and a better world. But there’s all kinds of opportunities here in the United States. And I think the Unites States is the greatest country in the world.

LaRue: Like I said, even though we had those [setbacks, we kept] letting them know that even though they put up all these screens, all these “White” signs, “No Blacks” signs, and still we kept on marching. We never lost step. Now, we didn’t use guns and knives to do it. We used it with intelligence, in my opinion.

What was the most memorable or impactful event during your time in the service?

LaRue: The last day.

Washington [simultaneously]: Graduation.

LaRue: Get that training over with. Incidentally, at nine o’clock, they have to turn off the lights, except in the restrooms. You couldn’t get a seat in the restrooms after nine o’clock, because everybody’s in there studying!

Calloway: One other thing about when we went to training. See, the cadet corps was kind of copied after West Point, to a point… we had upperclassmen who could --I call it harass-- haze the underclassmen. They couldn’t put their hands on you, but they could haze you. I mean really haze you, give you demerits and all that. And so, as a lower classman, you had to endure that. That had nothing to do with discrimination; when we became upperclassmen, we did the same thing. Upperclassmen could walk on water, and lower classmen had to take orders. But really, that was teaching you discipline and teaching you how to keep your mouth shut and take orders. And it had a point.

LaRue: If one of those upperclassmen catch you coming down the street --I mean, you can shine your shoes unti lyou could see your face in them-- he’d come up and ask you why your shoes weren’t shined. You didn’t say they were shined, you said, “No excuse, sir.” That was the only answer you had: “No excuse, sir.”

Washington: There were three answers: “Yes sir”, “No sir”, and, “No excuse sir.”

Do you feel that the sacrifices you made over fifty years ago are now being forgotten and taken for granted by some of the younger people?

LaRue: Well, yes and no. They’re getting the advantages of it, but they don’t realize the price that was paid for it. They think it’s free… [The kids] think that it’s the way it’s always been. It’s like it’s always been this way for them, but it’s not.

Washington: It’s like I said: if you don’t know where you’ve been, you may be doomed to make the same mistakes in the future. In other words, that’s why the Tuskegee Airmen right now go to schools, churches, civic organizations and things, telling their stories to younger people about the Tuskegee Airmen. Because if the story is not told, it can be lost, and the younger generation [won’t know what] their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents have made. So you have to know your past in order to face the future.

LaRue: [The Tuskegee Airmen] have never turned down an invitation to any group or organization, whether it’s a church or children, and we’ve been to them all. We go wherever they call and ask us. We don’t charge them, we just go and talk and try to tell the kids something that may give them a little tip or help them stay in school or help them set a goal. We’ll go anywhere and try it.

After the interview, I told the gentlemen that I sincerely appreciate the sacrifices they made to secure the freedom we now enjoy in this country. What they did was and is remarkable; it is through their sacrifices, endurance, and conviction that all of us --black and white-- are able to have the freedom that we do today. The story of the Tuskegee Airmen needs to be passed on so that we do not forget their legacy.

L-R: Alvin LaRue, me, Julius Calloway, Morris Washington


The Tuskegee Airmen were collectively presented with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 2007 by President George Bush in recognition for their distinguished service.
Captain Morris Washington served as the “Thundernator” host of Thunder Over Louisville in May 2007, six months before he passed away.
Major Julius Calloway was inducted into the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame in 1997, and received an honorary doctorate from Tuskegee University in 2006. He passed away on January 23, 2012 at the age of 87.
Mr. Alvin LaRue passed away on February 3, 2014

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back to My Future, Too

It's October 21, 2015... the date that Doc Brown and Marty McFly travel to in Back to the Future II, so I suppose it's appropriate that I found myself reliving a powerful part of my childhood this evening with my kids. 

It was a perfect autumn evening, and the Mountain was beckoning. Some recent construction around our apartment complex had created a small deposit of dirt and rocks in one spot, and from that location, adventure called. This particular evening, we came equipped with a few plastic trucks and spoons for excavating. As we approached the site, the kids quickly scrambled to the Mountain's summit. 

It was a perfect mountain: about a dozen feet high, mostly dirt with some good-sized rocks and several broken pieces of concrete slabs scattered throughout, ideal places to perch while climbing or digging. It was absent of broken glass, rebar, and other tetanus-laden hazards that might otherwise threaten the carefree explorations of a 3- and 6-year-old.  

Back to the Future came out 30 years ago, and I was around the age then that my kids are now. As I watched them play, I smelled the dirt and remembered how much fun I had had when left to simply play by myself outside. A dirt mound, a small copse of trees, a cove of bushes, even a pile of rocks, all became places of potential magic and adventure.

As a child, some minute, perceptive part of my young mind knew that childhood was a one-way journey. And so –much to the chagrin of my mother-- I took advantage of playing in and exploring every dirt mound, every wilderness-like patch of woodland, any place that looked as though it held the remotest possibility of fun or adventure. And it made my childhood wonderful.

Now, the Engaging And Involved Parent part of me wanted to climb the Mountain and join my kids, to sit in the dirt, asking to be included in their play, in their world... but I didn't. I have already had that time of my life, and I enjoyed every bit of it that I could. Now it was time for my children to experience the joy and magic of being able to play free from parental intrusion. I needed to let them create those experiences on their own.

So I sat for an hour in the cool and slowly-fading autumn light and watched my kids from 10 feet and 30 years away, until it seemed as though my past, our present, and their future came together, and my heart filled with so much remembrance, peace, and joy that it ached.

It was absolutely wonderful.

This post is dedicated to my dad, who taught me from a young age to enjoy and experience life in every way I can.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Irreverent DIY Guarantee

There is no shortage of tastefully-lit, artfully-filtered photos of completed DIY projects all over the Internet: I've seen everything from a kitchen table with a poured concrete top and iron pipe legs, to high heels with the undersides painted with sky-blue nail polish. Sure, the table looked great in the bohemian-urban-chic loft, but good luck finding friends to help haul that heavy-ass table down the stairs when you move out of that apartment. And the shoes looked nice in the finished display photo, but after just one night on the town, they'd look way worse than before. A lot of the DIY craft projects circulating on artsy blogs and Pinterest are, at best, impractical; at worst, they're downright stupid. (I'm looking at you, gold-painted honey bears.)

“What? We coordinate perfectly with the chalkboard-painted toilet seat and the television made of wooden pallets.”

Truth be told, I'm not a “crafty” person, despite what my friends tell me. I'll admit to being creative, but I'm definitely not crafty in the sense of “I like to make things for the hell of it in my free time”. When I make or do creative things, it's usually motivated by some kind of necessity, and it's almost always done in the most inexpensively MacGyver-ish way possible using pretty much whatever I have lying around or can easily find at Dollar Tree. Also, because we live in an apartment, projects that take up significant construction or storage space aren't really an option.

So, having said all that, I present you with my Irreverent Guarantee: 
The DIY projects featured on this blog do not require you to be “crafty”, or have previous experience, special equipment, or extra space or money. All projects have been tested for Practicality (i.e “How well does it do what it's made to do?”) and Durability (“Does it last a reasonably decent amount of time with normal expected use?”).

I've made plenty of things that looked great... but fell apart not long after the “Finished Product” photo was taken. I've also seen projects that look really cool, but required materials, space, money, time, and/or effort I just didn't have. Hopefully some of the things I put here can give you some ideas, inspire some creativity, and spare you the headache of making something impractical or flimsy when you could be doing more important things like playing video games or sampling beer or plotting world domination. Or parenting. You know, whatever floats your boat.

Constructed completely out of Mason jars, hot glue, Christmas lights, and chalkboard paint, of course.