MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
The historic Tuskegee Airmen boasted approximately 14,000 African-American service members for the U.S. Army Air Forces during and after World War II – their faithless service garnered more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses and pushed the envelope in integrating the U.S. military.
On Nov. 10, 2020, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, paid their respect to U.S. Army Air Forces Sgt. Thomas Newton, a Documented Original Tuskegee Airman, by touring Newton around MacDill’s facilities and giving him time to speak to service members about his stories and the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Nearly one year since being officially acknowledged as a Documented Original Tuskegee Airman at a ceremony in Hampton, Virginia, Newton, alongside his son, Retired U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Stevie Carmack, and daughter-in-law Ana, arrived to MacDill with pride that could not be hidden as his bright red jacket and black and red cap displays only two words: Tuskegee Airman.
“The Tuskegee Airmen were such an inspiration to all future generations of service members and it’s an honor to take this time to pay respects to one of these heroes,” said Col. Benjamin Jonsson, the 6th Air Refueling Wing commander. “To see the excitement he still has for the military is incredible and we hope that his visit to MacDill was as memorable for him as it was for us.”
Newton started his tour by viewing a static display of a KC-135 Stratotanker while talking with Airmen such as Capt. Okezie Ezakannagha, a 91st Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 instructor pilot, and Staff Sgt. DeJahnay Fort, a 91st ARS boom operator, on the history and operations of the KC-135. While the aircraft stayed on the ground, Newton’s stop to the KC-135 flight simulator offered a peek into the skies, albeit virtually.
Newton took flight out of MacDill, flew around the Tampa Bay skies before asking if he could fly over Manhattan and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.
Sandwiched in between visits to MacDill’s facilities was the day’s pinnacle event, a visit to the Davis Conference Center, named after Newton’s commander at the 332nd Fighter Group Tuskegee Army Air Field, Alabama, Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Newton received a briefing from Steve Ove, the base historian, and took the podium to tell his military story and speak to MacDill Airmen.
“It was a major part of my life that I’ve gone through,” reflected Newton. “The experience I had was very heartwarming and rewarding. In those days, there were a lot of restrictions on us, but we overcame.”
Following Newton’s speech, he was greeted and coined by U.S. Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command.
At this point in the tour, the still upbeat Newton walked with the same energy and enthusiasm as he entered the 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron building. During WWII, Newton served as a supply clerk for the 99th Fighter Squadron, so crossing the threshold into the 6th LRS warehouse was akin to stepping back in time to a familiar place.
“As we get stuck in the day to day motion of operations, we tend to forget and appreciate how much challenge and sacrifice it took from our predecessors to get to where we are,” said 1st. Lt. Nicole Flores, the 6th LRS vehicle management flight commander. “His visit just reiterated the fact that we stand on the shoulders of giants and that there is so much to be thankful for when it comes to the service men and women that paved the way for us all. We as Airmen are full of gratitude toward the legacies of the Tuskegee Airmen.”
The tour concluded with Newton and his family sitting down for lunch at Bay Palms Golf Complex with the 6th Air Refueling Wing’s group commanders and chiefs, where they each shared appreciation and gratitude for Newton’s selfless service.
“We got feedback all day from how happy Airmen were to meet Sgt. Newton and he reflected those same sentiments from his short stay at MacDill,” said Jonsson.
As time passes and the number of remaining men and women who served with the original Tuskegee Airmen decreases, it’s important that we take time to hear their experiences. In the case of Newton, his experiences along with every member of the Tuskegee Airmen carry a legacy that created the foundation for men and women of all backgrounds to thrive and prosper in today’s military.