Ear Hustle 411 would like to wish Walter Crenshaw a happy belated birthday
Per The Daily News, An impeccably dressed Walter Crenshaw beamed from his wheelchair Sunday at the Veterans Home of California — West Los Angeles as he looked out at a sea of familiar faces.
The oldest living documented original Tuskegee Airmen member turned 104 years old on Sunday and was celebrating with more than 100 fellow veterans, friends and family who had come from around the country to honor him.
“I wish my momma could see me now,” Crenshaw said to hearty laughter, after asking for the microphone in the middle of a slide show that included old family and military photos of the Tuskegee airman, who was trained as a tailor in high school. “This is a thanks to one and all. Love, love, love. Keep yourselves together. Be nice to one another. Let love control your lives.”
The famed Tuskegee Airmen became America’s first black military airmen during World War II. Crenshaw — who was stationed at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Ala., from 1942 to 1944 and ultimately attained the rank of sergeant — was not a pilot but served as the administrative assistant to the provost marshal during the initial training of cadets for the 99th Pursuit Squadron and the 332nd Fighters Squadron, according to family members.
The Alabama-raised Crenshaw was responsible for checking the background and induction of each cadet, whom he got to know personally.
Among Crenshaw’s most memorable moments, he said “was sitting alongside a P-51 (fighter craft) with the greatest aviator that ever stepped on a plane — my boy, the Great (Daniel) “Chappie” James (Jr.)”
James Jr. would later become the first African-American four-star general in 1975.
Like other Tuskegee Airmen, Crenshaw only received real recognition for his service later in life. He attended the grand opening celebration for the National Historic Site of the National Museum of the Tuskegee Airmen at Moton Field in Tuskegee in October, 2008, at 99, where he was recognized as the eldest in attendance at a brunch that followed the Tuskegee University Day special convocation chapel service on the Tuskegee University campus. There, his information is on display.
“That, without a doubt, is the most outstanding moment of my life,” Crenshaw, a former Santa Monica resident, said before Sunday’s celebration.
Last year at the City Hall in Torrance, he received a Congressional Gold Medal replica for his service, and his profile is a permanent part of the exhibit “Tuskegee Airmen, Men in Flight” at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles.
Serving as an original Tuskegee Airman, Crenshaw said, “means my children and great grandchildren will see that their granddaddy was not a flop. They’ve got something to be proud of.”
Crenshaw’s youngest son, Andre Crenshaw of Torrance, and his daughter Joyce Crenshaw of Redondo Beach, said they didn’t realize until they were adults just how significant their father’s service as a Tuskegee Airman was.
“One of their orders was not to talk about it and he didn’t,” Andre Crenshaw, 60, said.
While it was an experiment that was designed to fail, the exact opposite occurred, he said.
“The Airmen’s success in escorting bombers during World War II — having one of the lowest loss records of all the escort fighter group, and being in constant demand for their services by the allied bomber units — is a record unmatched by any other fighter group,” according to Tuskegee University.
Joyce Crenshaw, 68, who visits her father every day at the Veterans Home, said her proud father now brings it up all the time.
“Every day he says to me something different; he’ll say ‘you know I’m a celebrity? You know how important this was? He says, there are people who want to take pictures of me. Have I become that important?’”
Joyce Crenshaw, a professional face painter, said she replies; “‘Yeah, first of all because you’re ancient. You’re an antique. That’s the first thing and because we’re in wars and people are very aware of war now, and now they’ve made the Tuskegee Airmen known to the world so we can celebrate that.”
Walter Crenshaw, who has been married to his wife, Zelma, since 1940, has five children, eight grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. He exercises every morning in bed before he gets up, can walk around and used to do crossword puzzles every day before his eyesight took a turn for the worse about five years ago, his children said. He was an active churchgoer and world traveler and today spends much of the day chatting with his many friends and family on his cellphone, they said.
This article has been updated from an earlier version to correctly state that Crenshaw received a Congressional Gold Medal replica.