Approximately 45 members of the Amityville Reserve Center community
as well as cadet family members participated in this historic talk
about patriotism, segregation and life in an era that has shaped
what our world is like today.
The 332nd Fighter Group was involved
in 1,578 combat missions with no pilot losses. They damaged or
destroyed 409 enemy aircraft and garnered 744 air medals, 150 of
them the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Watson began his aviation training in 1939 at Howard University,
where he studied mechanical engineering and was in the original
College Pilot Training Program. He continued under the same program
at Tuskegee Institute and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as a flying
The Tuskegee Airmen became the first black aviation unit in the
U.S. armed services, formed in July 1941. In 1941, the military had
just begun to be integrated, while most of American society was not.
Members of the unit had to pass the same muster as their fellow
white officers and enlisted counterparts.
Watson was an original member of the famed 99th Fighter Squadron.
He was one of eight pilots who successfully fought the German elite
Luftwaffe over the Mediterranean Sea, marking the first time
African-American pilots fought in air combat. In World War II, he
distinguished himself flying missions over North Africa, Sicily,
Italy and southern Europe.
Watson's efforts were instrumental in the integration of the
armed forces and federal agencies. With a segregated military during
the 1940s, Watson played a key role in developing an integration
plan for the armed forces that became the nation's official policy.
In 1965, after a 23-year military career, he joined the Federal
Aviation Administration as an equal opportunity specialist and
subsequently as an air traffic specialist.
Watson told the young men and women of the Liberty AGTR-5
Division to stay in school and to avoid temptations to use drugs and
"What a thrill to actually meet one of the famous Tuskegee
Airmen!" exclaimed Vincent Lamanna, age 13, of Amityville. Vinnie,
as his shipmates call him, is a seventh-grader and has been a naval
league cadet with the Liberty AGTR-5 Division since age 10. Next
month he will be graduating into the Sea Cadet program, for young
men and women from ages 13 to 18.
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"We are very honored to have the colonel come and talk with us
today," said Lt. j.g. Forrest Woodward, commanding officer of the
Liberty AGTR-5 Division. "This is the kind of exposure we work hard
at (within the NSCC) to give these young adults a sense of our
nation's history and those role models that can make a positive
influence on their personal and professional lives."
To Woodward, this was also very personal. His father was one of
the B-17 bomber crew members who flew 50 bombing missions over
war-torn Europe with the 775th Squadron of the 463rd Bomb Group (H)
out of Foggia, Italy, during 1944 and 1945. Watson also flew out of
the airfields in Foggia during the same years. "Lieutenant Colonel
Watson, without doubt, flew cover for my father and his crew," said
The USS Liberty AGTR-5 Division of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps
is stationed at the U.S. Armed Forces Reserve Center, Amityville,
Long Island, New York.
The U.S. Naval Sea Cadet
Corps is a nationwide organization dedicated to helping American
youth realize personal success and achievement through a nautically
oriented training program. Through Sea Cadet leadership, young
Americans ages 13 through 17 develop interest and skill in basic
seamanship and its naval adaptations, while learning the value of
patriotism, courage, self-reliance, teamwork, accountability and
education. Continued success and participation in the Sea Cadets is
dependent on maintaining good grades in school.
Membership in the Sea Cadets allows teenagers to sample military
life with no obligation to join any branch of the armed forces.
Should cadets decide to enlist in the Navy or Coast Guard, their
training may allow them entry at an advance paygrade. The Naval Sea
Cadet Corps affords equal opportunity for participation to all young
Americans, regardless of race, color, religion or sex.
[News release from the
Liberty (AGTR-5) Division,
Naval Sea Cadet Corps]