Alfonso Laurell Harris was born March 26, 1926 at old Parkland Hospital a few miles from his home. He was a good student and entered Booker T. Washington High School at age 11, allowing him to graduate when he was just 15. He he later moved to the Northwest and began working as an aircraft engine inspector in Ogden, Utah. On July 14, 1944 he enlisted in the US Army, shortly after his 18th birthday at nearby Fort Douglas, Utah. As it did for hundreds of thousands of others, the terms of his enlistment read “Enlistment for the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law.”
He was selected shortly thereafter to enter the Second Tuskegee Experiment at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama as a candidate in the Army Air Corps’ Aviation Cadet Program. He graduated with Class 45-G, having qualified as a single engine Fighter Pilot and went on to serve with honor in World War II.
Following the war, he worked for a time in the electronic technology industry before entering University of California at Los Angeles where he earned his B.S. degree in physics in 1966. He went to work for NCR in the Engineering Division, where he remained for the next 30 years. Since his retirement, he has been actively involved in community service, tutoring and doing public speaking. He authored a book “In Lincoln’s Shadow” published in 2003.
About 1,000 aviators trained at the Tuskegee Army Airfield. Of this number, some 450 fought in WW II, flying 1,578 missions and destroying 261 enemy aircraft. 66 were killed in action. 33 were shot down and became prisoners of war. They served with distinction and in 2007, President George W. Bush honored the Tuskegee Airmen by collectively awarding them a Congressional Gold Medal.
Speaking to an interviewer in Galveston, fellow Tuskegee aviator, Lee Archer, Jr. related the story of a convention of Tuskegee Airmen where a white man had insisted on being admitted to the meetings, also demanding to speak. Archer was apprehensive at first, saying that he did not know what was going on and thinking that perhaps the man was going to cause trouble. Instead, the visitor stood up and said that he had been a bomber pilot in World War II when four Tuskegee-piloted fighters had escorted his badly damaged bomber back to Italy. Archer related that the pilot said that at the time he didn’t even know they were black pilots and only found out years later. The man continued that he just wanted to thank the group for their service. Archer recollected that the man closed his comments by saying “Thank you, guys. I never knew. And now, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is. Thanks for saving me and my crew.”
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