A Salute To The New England Tuskegee Airmen: 6 Living 1 Just Passed Away and NE TAI President Willie Shellman
From Left to Right: Enoch Woodhouse, Willie Shellman, Harvey Sanford, The Late William Vickers,
Delbrook Binns and Dr. Harold May
Photographer: Dennis Stein/Metrowest Daily News
Our March 3, 2016 Black History Breakfast will pay tribute to the six LIVING New England area Tuskegee Airmen and the Tuskegee Airman who just passed away earlier in February. Below are their biographical profiles and the history of the New England chapter, headed by Willie Shellman.
All will be honored at the Breakfast.
Special Thanks to Willie Shellman for providing this article about these extraordinary men.
-Carole Copeland Thomas
A Short History of the Tuskegee Airmen and
Biography Notes of Massachusetts Tuskegee Airmen
The New England Chapter is based in Massachusetts and is one of approximately 50 chapters of Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated. Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated (TAI) is a national civic organization that was formed in 1973. The goals of TAI are to:
On January 16, 1941 the War Department announced the formation of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, a black flying unit, to be trained at Tuskegee, Alabama, the home of the Tuskegee Institute.
Thus the "Lonely Eagles," as the black pilots called themselves, became reality. The first class, which was designated 42-C, began on July 19, 1941. Five students completed the training and received their wings on March 7, 1942
The 99th was later joined other Tuskegee squadrons to form the 332nd Fighter Group. The 332nd flew P-40, P-39, P-47, and P-51 aircraft in combat throughout the Mediterranean and European Theaters and became a respected and decorated group of fighter pilots. The group was known as the "Red Tails" for their aircraft paint scheme.
The bulk of the Black flyers were in the 332nd Fighter Group. Veterans of the 332nd Fighter group and newly trained pilots were used to form the 477th Bombardment Group. The Bombardment squadrons were equipped with B-26 aircraft and later with B-25s. The war ended before the 477th Bombardment Group was deployed overseas.
From the inception of the 99th through the period that signaled the ending of World War II (1946), the following number of black combat flyers completed their training:
Class 46-C, which graduated on June 29, 1946, was the last pilot class to finish at TAAF. In order to support the black flyers ten times as many administrative and ground support personnel were trained. In order to keep the pilots flying the Army Air Corps trained and deployed Black servicemen in all the required support functions (mechanics, ground crew, nurses, etc.).
The “Tuskegee Experiment” succeeded beyond the expectations of even those who proposed the program. The excellent record of the 332nd Fighter Group in combat led to a review of the War Department's racial policies and a presidential order in 1947 to desegregate the United States Armed Forces.
There were 14 pilots and numerous support personnel from Massachusetts. Today the following Tuskegee Airmen are living in Massachusetts.
*Raymond Baker entered the U.S. Army in 1944. He went to Biloxi MS for basic training and then was assigned to Tuskegee Army Airfield. After several months Raymond began pilot training as a member of Class 45I. The war ended before his completion of the flying program. Mr. Baker was discharged in July 5, 1946 and returned to Brockton, MA.
*Jack Bryant grew up in Chicago, IL and followed his brother into pilot training in the Army Air Corp in 1945. The pilot training program at Tuskegee Army Air Field was discontinued before Jack’s class completed training and Jack was discharged in 1946. Jack entered the University of Michigan and graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering. In 1961 Jack moved to Boston and started Bryant Engineering, a civil engineering firm specializing in major infrastructure projects.
*George W. Giddings from Yonkers, N.Y attended Fisk University. He entered Aviation Cadet training in 1942 and was assigned to Class 43H at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Served until 1946. George was grounded due to an eye problem. He then attended Navigator training at Hondo AAF, Texas, Bombardier training at Roswell AAF, NM and Gunnery training at Yuma AAF, AZ and was discharged in 1946.
*Harold May, MD. from Poughkeepsie NY, completed two years of undergraduate study at Harvard University before joining the Army Air Corp in 1945. The war ended before Harold could complete his pilot training and upon discharge he returned to Harvard University to complete his undergraduate studies and completed the medical degree program and Harvard Medical School. Dr. May began a missionary medical assignment in Haiti and stayed for eleven years. Upon his return to the United States Dr. May practiced medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital until retirement. Dr. May remains active as a founder and Board member of the humanitarian organization Family, a human service organization operating in Dorchester Massachusetts and Haiti.
*Harvey F. Sanford graduated from the Boston Trade High School in Airplane Engine mechanics in 1944. In 1945 Harvey entered the U.S. Army Air Corps and was stationed at Tuskegee Army Air Field as an Air Inspector (Airplane and Engine) until his discharge in 1946. While at Tuskegee Harvey often traveled with the Base Commander while being responsible for the maintenance of the commander’s aircraft. And, from 1950 to 1952 during the Korean Conflict served in light Aviation Aircraft maintenance in the 272nd field Artillery group. Returning to Boston Harvey worked in aircraft research and development at Hanscom Air Force base until 1970. And, from 1970 until retirement in 1983 he worked as a FAA Airworthiness Inspector assigned to Logan Airport Boston, MA.
*Enoch Woodhouse II, Esq. graduated from English High School in Boston, MA. Joined the U. S. Army Air Corps and completed the Officers Candidate School in 1946, at the age of 19. Served as Finance Officer for the 477th Bombardment Group at Lockbourne AF, OH. He was discharged from active duty in 1949 and joined the Air Force Reserves. While in the Air Force Reserves, Enoch attended Yale University and Boston University Law School. He was assigned to the Air Force JAG Office in 1956, while serving as a reservist at Hanscom AFB. Mr. Woodhouse retired from the Air Force Reserves as a Lt. Colonel in 1972. Attorney Woodhouse practiced law in Boston and served as a Diplomatic Courier for the U.S. State Department in Europe, Africa and South America. He is former Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Boston and served as Public Member for Promotion of the State Department of Officers.
Sadly, Mr. William Vickers passed away on February 2, 2016. Here is his biographical profile.
*William Vickers graduated from Boston Trade High School and entered the U. S. Army in 1944 qualifying for assignment in Pilot Training program. Mr. Vickers took basic training at Kessler Field in Biloxi, MS. Mr. Vickers was stationed in Sebring Florida as a member of the B-17 Ground Crew. Later William was sent to Bombay India and stationed in the Assam Valley in India as part of the Air Transport Command. Upon discharge in 1946, Mr. Vickers joined the National Guard and was recalled to active duty in 1950 and stationed at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin and later sent to Helicopter school before his release from active duty in 1952. Mr. Vickers continued to serve and retired from the National Guard after 22 years of service.
Willie Shellman joined Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. as a civilian in 1985 and currently serves as President of the New England Chapter. He graduated from high school in Chicago, IL. and later graduated from Tuskegee University with a degree in Electrical Engineering. Willie was employed as an Auto Pilot Design Engineer on C-5 and F-14 aircrafts and as an Avionics Design Engineer in missile systems.
Mr. Shellman majored in Business Administration at Northeastern University and was employed as a Sales Operations manager in the computer and internet industries. Mr. Shellman most recent employment was as the Executive Director of the YMCA Achievers Programs at the YMCA of Greater Boston. Mr. Shellman is currently retired.
Having lived in several cities around the United States, Willie and his wife Maxine, along with their daughter and son have resided in Sudbury Massachusetts for the past thirty-five years.
Acknowledgements: Many dedicated Massachusetts Tuskegee Airmen have preceded us in their Homecoming. We dearly remember George S. Lima, Jr. (Rhode Island), William Bennett, Vernon Burke, Charles Diggs, James Fischer, Lloyd Godfrey, Daniel Grant, Stephen Hargrove, Milton Hopkins, Fuzzy Hector, Luther McIlwain, James McLaurin, Allen Monroe, Daniel Moore, Robert Newton Sr., John Roach, Frank Roberts, Thomas Ross, Willis Saunders, Herman Wells and many others.
I am so excited and proud about ALL of those who will be honored at our March 3rd Black History Breakfast. However, you need to read this biographical profile of a true American hero who followed his love of airplanes and never got sidetracked because of his race. The story of Harvey Sanford is so compelling that I urge you to share it with your children, friends, grandkids, colleagues and staff members to help them understand the true grit of these men of action.
Harvey Sanford was a member of the famous Tuskegee Airmen and is a current member of the New England Chapter Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.
Special thanks to Dr. Judith Sanford-Harris for sharing this wonderful profile about her father. It will make you proud of the outstanding achievements of African American men and women whose bravery and dedication have made our country great.
Harvey Sanford is enjoying his retirement years with with his beautiful wife and family in suburban Boston. He will be honored at the March 3, 2016 Black History Breakfast at the Boston Colonnade Hotel. Come meet the heroes and sheroes and thank them for their dedicated service to America.
Harvey F. Sanford
Harvey was born on Hammond Street in Boston’s South End in 1926 to Oswald Sanford and Georgianna (Jones) Sanford. He was an only child and was lovingly called “Sonny” by his parents. As a boy he spent summers with his mother’s family in Annapolis, MD and is a connoisseur of crab cakes. He also went with his father each month to visit his Mashpee Wampanoag family on the Cape. His mother said that his favorite toy at a very early age was an airplane he made from popsicle sticks and his love of airplanes has continued through his lifetime.
Harvey attended Boston Trade High School for Boys in the aeronautics program and played the fife in the school’s fife & drum corps. He was one of four students who completed his high school credits one year early, and the four were hired by what was then known at East Boston Airport to work as aircraft mechanics for their senior year. The airport was already familiar to him, as he had visited many times as a boy with his father to watch the trucks bring landfill to dump into the harbor to extend the runways. A year after graduation, in 1945, he was drafted and “…shipped to Tuskegee,” assigned to Squadron A, 385th Army Air Force Base Unit.
He vividly remembers his train ride south to Chehaw Station, Alabama. Black passengers could sit anywhere when they got on the train in Boston but once they crossed the Mason-Dixon line in Washington, DC, they all had to get off of the train and move to the front car of the train – the one closest to the smoke and dust from the coal engine.
Once at Tuskegee Army Air Field/Moton Field, they were lined up for jobs and Ralph White, who was from Boston and had been there for several months, recognized him and asked why he was there. Harvey said, “They told us we were going to build airplanes,” to which Ralph replied, “Already built.” Harvey explained what he’d been doing at East Boston Airport and Ralph took Harvey and his files to his boss, Major Boyd, second in command. Major Boyd said, “You’re just what we need. You’ll work for me and the base commander. You will have no other duties.” He than told Ralph to get Harvey a room. Harvey says, “I didn’t have stripe the first but I was with all non-coms.”
Harvey was eventually promoted to the rank of sergeant. His job was to inspect all aircraft and engines after every 25 hours of flying, on the ground and during test flights with the pilots. Once per month he would fly Major Boyd and the base commander, Major Parrish, to Washington, DC for meetings and he would spend time with family in Annapolis. When he would return the next morning, his plane would have been moved and parked in a far corner of the air base, away from all of the “white” planes.
Tuskegee, Alabama was a “dry” town. Now and then Harvey would have to fly to Chicago and, since he didn’t drink, the guys trusted him and would hive him money to buy liquor. Before leaving Chicago a truck would back up to the plane and load the liquor. Pat Evans, the Macon County sheriff and a notorious racist, never did figure out how liquor was getting onto the base. Evans was known for arresting black soldiers on false charges when they went into town and putting them to work on local chain gangs, so being able to bring the liquor in without Evans knowing how was a mini-victory.
Harvey received an honorable discharge in October of 1946 and went to work at Fort Devens, MA as a National Guard aircraft mechanic. During the Korean Conflict, from 1950-52 he did light aviation aircraft maintenance with the 272nd Mass. National Guard Field Artillery, first in Wisconsin where it was so cold that guns didn’t fire, children got frostbite while sleeping, and water inside the barracks froze, and then in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany. Part of his role during this time was to fly along the German border with Chuck Lee, also a Boston native, doing border patrol. He also served with Billy and “Lafe” Bingham, whom he knew from home.
On his return home, his job was airforce research and development at Hanscom Air Base, including supervising the installation of test equipment. He was authorized to “run up” supersonic aircraft including the F101, F102, and F106, and other aircraft such as the T-39 and the KC-135.
From 1974 until his retirement in 1984 he worked as an airworthiness inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at Logan Airport, specializing in accident investigation and the inspection of airline aircraft, and then as an FAA consultant.
Harvey’s hobbies before retirement were building an extensive model railroad in his basement and one for his granddaughters, and building and flying radio control airplanes. Since retirement, Harvey has volunteered every Saturday with the Collings Foundation and with MayoCraft on aircraft restoration and repair. Aircraft have included a B-17, B-24, B-25, B-6, PT-17, T-6, Wright B-Flyer, two Piper Cubs, a 1911 Bleriot, and a Waco Cabin. The MayoCraft volunteers also built an airworthy P-26D from scratch. While with the Collings Foundation, Harvey and Ret. Col. John Roach flew the B-17 and B-25 to air shows around the country and took the public up for rides.
As an Original Tuskegee Airman, Harvey is a member of the New England Chapter, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. In 1996 he was recognized as “the youngest African American maintenance inspector to take part in the advanced training group at the Tuskegee Army/Air Field” and in 2007 traveled to Washington DC as one of 300 recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal, a prestigious award given by Congress for their service. He was also awarded an Honorary Citizen’s Award at the 73rd annual convention of the NAACP in Boston in 1982. As a member of the New England TAI chapter, he has received many certificates and accolades in appreciation of his and their service and their many presentations around New England to educate young people about the Tuskegee Airmen.
Harvey’s first love is obviously airplanes in any shape or form, but his wife of 65 years, Alice (Taylor) Sanford and family are equally important. Harvey and Alice met when they were 12 years old and married shortly after her graduation from Wheaton College in 1950. They have one daughter, Dr. Judith Sanford-Harris, a son-in-law, Boston Police Deputy Superintendent Joseph Harris, and two granddaughters, Stacey and Stephanie Harris.
Harvey was known over the years as the Mr. Fixit of his family, friends, and neighbors. He was often the go-to person for car repairs, plumbing, minor electrical repairs, and some construction and installation, skills he learned from his father, a talented auto mechanic. He never said no when asked for help.
Harvey is a gentle man with a quiet, dry wit who has always played a strong, supporting role to everyone who knows him. If life were a movie, he’d win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor!
The Black History Month Breakfast will be held on Thursday March 3, 2016 at the Boston Colonnade Hotel from 8:30 am to 11:00 am.
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©2023 All Rights Reserved Carole Copeland Thomas • (508) 947-5755 • Carole@mssconnect.com