Original Tuskegee Airman reflects on his role in history

By Matt Johnson

LITTLE ROCK - Before the story of the Tuskegee Airmen is told on the big screen, the story begins in Milton Crenchaw's Little Rock house.

At 93-years-old, he's one the very last flight instructors still alive after helping launch the Tuskegee Airmen, also known as "Red Tails," into battle and into the pages of history.

"If it hadn't been for me they wouldn't have ever had the Red Tails," said Crenchaw.

Crenchaw helped train dozens of black World War II pilots at the Morton Airbase, who later took to the skies in aircrafts with distinctive red paint on the tail sections. His job was to keep his young pilots calm and teach them the fundamentals before they ever took to the sky.

His Little Rock home is decorated with a lifetime of awards and photos. He has a Congressional Gold Medal and was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2007.

"I've had the good life," he said, with an infectious smile that seemed to light up his whole house. "People want to ask how I did it, ask God, fella. I'm just a Sunday School teacher."

He was born on January 13, 1919 and raised by his father, Reverend Joseph Crenchaw and mother, Ethel Pitts Crenchaw.

He graduated from Dunbar High School in 1937. Just a few years later, he hopped on a bus to Tuskegee, Alabama to become a civilian flight instructor.

Crenchaw utilized the Civilian Pilot Training Program that recruited black pilots in the army for the very first time.

But even American war heroes weren't excused from the brutality of segregation. The all-black unit was banned from participating in social events with white pilots at the airbase.

"You'd get arrested, or you get beaten up every now and then," said Crenchaw. "But you have a mission."

He says that mission will go down as one of the biggest accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement.

"It will have a good impact, like how Martin Luther King said 'I have a dream," said Crenchaw. "The rest is history."

His mission now is public speaking. He most recently gave a lecture at the University of Central Arkansas in November. Crenchaw always delivers the simple message that got him and his pilots through the rigors of training for war.

"Obey God, and learn everything that you can," said Crenchaw.