Saturday, May 13

Tuskegee Airman lectures Naval Sea Cadets about love of country     Send a link to a friend

[MAY 13, 2006]  AMITYVILLE, N.Y. -- Lt. Col. Spann Watson, a resident of Westbury and one of the surviving members of the famed World War II 332nd Fighter Group, held a discussion session on May 8 at the U.S. Armed Forces Reserve Center with 35 young men and women who are members of the Liberty Division of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps.

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 cadet.

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 join gangs.

"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 Woodward.

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]

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