Honoring our Heroes: William Johnson

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William Johnson spent most of his childhood in Glen Cove watching planes from Mitchell Field fly over his head.

Those planes inspired Johnson to dream of soaring beyond racial barriers.

For Johnson, that day came during World War II.

The NAACP persuaded President Franklin Roosevelt to end the military's refusal to train black pilots.

In 1941, the Army opened an all-black flight school in Tuskegee, Alabama. Johnson was among 1,000 cadets trained at the segregated air base.

At age 18, Johnson earned his wings as one of the first African-American fighter pilots in the U.S. military — known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

They fought Germans in the air — and prejudice on the ground.

The Tuskegee Airmen battled back against racism by proving their military might in the skies. They flew more than 15,000 missions, destroyed 1,000 enemy aircraft, and never lost a U.S. bomber they were protecting.

“We performed, and we proved by our performance what it was all about. It is not the color of your skin, but the content of your character that counts,” said Johnson.

The Tuskegee Airmen's exemplary service paved the way for the racial integration of the military.
In 1948, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, mandating equality of opportunity and treatment to all in the U.S. armed forces.

Eighty years ago, Johnson chased a dream of achieving an equal chance to fly and fight.

Today, the 94-year-old World War II hero takes pride in a mission accomplished.

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