Tuskegee Airmen Memorialized

Article Written by:  Denise Goolsby

Published by: “The Desert Sun”, at 5:31 p.m. PST February 16, 2016

Mitchell Higginbotham, a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the African American pilots who graduated from Tuskegee Institute and flew as fighters and served in bomber squadrons during World War II, has died.

Higginbotham, a resident of Rancho Mirage, passed away on Sunday at the age of 94.

He received his wings and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Force on Feb. 1, 1945, after completing training at the segregated Tuskegee Army Airfield as a member of class 44-K-TE.

He was assigned to the 477th Bombardment Group (medium) based at Freeman Field, Indiana, and was trained to fly both single and multi-engine military aircraft.  While in training, he was cited for his skills as a B-25 medium bomber pilot.

According to historical accounts, Higginbotham was one of 100 black servicemen who were arrested for attempting to enter an officer’s club reserved for white officers. The event became known as the Freeman Field Mutiny. It is widely seen as a key moment in the path towards full integration of the U.S. Armed Services.

Cont’d from “The Desert Sun”

Tuskegee Airmen honored at Palm Springs Air Museum

In 2007, Higginbotham and his brother, Dr. Robert Higginbotham, also a member of the elite Tuskegee club — along with about 300 other Tuskegee Airmen — were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush.

Mitch Higginbotham holds the Congressional Gold Medal he received from President George W. Bush. Standing is his brother, Dr. Robert Higginbotham.

Higginbotham was born on March 2, 1921, in Amherst, Virginia. He began active duty in the U.S. military during the summer of 1942.

He remained on active duty in the military until 1946 and was a reserve from 1946 to 1962.

After the war, Mitchell went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Labor Relations from the University of Colorado. He then  joined  the staff of the Urban League of Pittsburgh. Mitchell was later hired by the Greater Pittsburgh Airport where he  managed  landings and take offs of all  unscheduled aircraft. Mitchell relocated to Los Angeles where he served as a Los Angeles County Probation Officer until retiring.

Cont’d from “The Desert Sun”

In 1996, he was honored as “Man of the Year” by the Los Angeles Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.

He moved to Rancho Mirage two years ago to be closer to his brother Robert and sister-in-law, Margaret. A longtime resident of Dana Point, he was active in many organizations, including the National Tuskegee Airmen, Los Angeles Chapter of The Tuskegee Airmen, Dana Point Historical Society and the Tolerance Education Center of Rancho Mirage.

“Mitch was a true patriot, who against tremendous adversity and prejudice would not wavier from his allegiance to the United States and his goal to be an aviator,” Palm Springs Air Museum managing director Fred Bell said. “His life and dedication should serve as an example of what one should do for their fellow men and our nation. It is one thing to espouse patriotism. It is a very different thing to strive with your all your body and soul will give – and Mitch did just that. We are lucky that these type of men stepped up to the plate during a very dark time and I am truly blessed to have known him.”

Mitchell Higginbotham with two middle schoolers he worked with on a special project.

“He spent the last two years of his life working on his oral history, educating local schoolchildren about the great Tuskegee Airmen and, most importantly, working as a consultant on the film ‘Red Tails,’ ” said Higginbotham’s oral historian, Shivaun Manley Hinman.  “He worked for peace and had a great affection for young people everywhere.”

Mitchell is survived by his brother Robert, sister-in-law Margaret, and two nephews, Robert and Michael.

A service will be held at noon on March 5 at the Tolerance Education Center, 35147 Landy Lane, Rancho Mirage.

Mitchell requested that he be buried at the Tuskegee Memorial in the Sewickley Cemetery, in his hometown of Sewickley, Penn. A formal Tuskegee memorial service will be held in May.

In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Mitchell L. Higginbotham can be made to the Tuskegee Airmen National Scholarship Fund.

Sources: Tuskegee Airmen archives, University of California, Riverside; Francis, Charles E. (1997). Adolph Caso, “The Tuskegee Airmen : The Men Who Changed a Nation,” Shivaun Manley Hinman; Tuskegee University website; Tuskegee Airmen Inc. of Greater Pittsburgh.

NOTE: Article Submitted by,  Eugene Martin

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By Karina Meier – Jan 14, 2016

A wreath stands next to Samuel Leftenant’s gravestone in Memorial Section K of Arlington National Cemetery. A memorial service for the Tuskegee Airman was held Thursday, more than 70 years after his plane crashed in Austria during World War II. SHFWire photo by Karina Meier  ARLINGTON, Va. – A full military honors memorial service was conducted Thursday for 2nd Lt. Samuel G. Leftenant , 70 years after his plane crashed over Austria on April 12, 1945. Leftenant was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first group of African-American military pilots to fight in World War II.

Friends, family and fellow Tuskegee Airmen joined the Army’s Old Guard for an emotional ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Air Force Chaplain Lt. Col. Steven Tillet presided over the ceremony, and four F-16 planes from the 187th Fighter Wing based in Alabama flew over the cemetery in the missing-man formation.

Dressed in bright red coats, symbolizing the red tails in the original P-51 fighter planes they flew, several members of the East Coast chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen showed up to pay their respects.

“I wouldn’t have been able to be in the Air Force for 23 years if it wasn’t for him,” Edward Harbison, 56, an engineer from Fairfax, Va., said. Though he didn’t know Leftenant, Harbison grew up hearing all about the original Tuskegee Airmen.

After three rifle volleys, Army Capt. Craig Morin presented an American flag to Leftenant’s eldest sister, Nancy Leftenant-Colon, 94, who was accompanied by four of her younger siblings. Leftenant-Colon, from East Norwich, N.Y., was the first black nurse with the Army Reserves. She was stationed with the Tuskegee Airmen in Columbus, Ohio, after her brother died, and worked there until 1949.

After the memorial service, guests left flowers at the tombstone erected for Leftenant. There was no burial service, as his body was never found. His remains may be buried in an unmarked grave in Europe.

Samuel Gordon Leftenant, 61, a medical doctor in Olympia, Wash., the airman’s oldest nephew and his namesake, hopes that modern technology will help identify more remains in the future. He said the memorial was meant to allow the family to say goodbye and to give his aunts some closure.

“There are over 8,000 sets of remains buried in Europe, but they haven’t been identified. There’s still an effort, but not yet for Sam,” he said.

Pictures of a young Leftenant were on display during a reception after the service at Arlington’s Women in Military Memorial, along with letters, keepsakes and a model of one of the red-tailed P-51 plane flown by the Airmen.

NOTE: The above article was sent to us by Eugene Martin.

 

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