Suozzi Presents U.S. Flag to William “Joe” Johnson, Tuskegee Airman and Glen Cove Hometown Hero
On Monday, Congressman Tom Suozzi (D – Long Island, Queens) visited and spent some time with William “Joe” Johnson, a Tuskegee Airman and Glen Cove hometown hero. The Congressman presented Mr. Johnson with an American flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol. Additionally, he listened to the veteran’s stories of his service to our country during World War II, the racial barriers that he had to overcome to become an aviator and his idyllic childhood growing up in Glen Cove.
“Joe Johnson is one of my hometown heroes. He personifies all that I love about Glen Cove,” said Suozzi. “As part of the ‘Greatest Generation’, he persevered to overcome racial barriers and served our country proudly during World War II. ’Never Forget the Vet’ is so much more than a hashtag. It is important that we sit down and listen to the stories of bravery and heroism of those who fought for the liberties that we enjoy today.”
“Glen Cove was a wonderful community to grow up in. I lived on Cottage Row across from the church. There were ten in my family. We went fishing, swimming…I thought I was Huckleberry Finn,” said Johnson. “I was the only black male in my graduating class. My teachers were great, even though there were no black teachers. I grew up with everyone together, especially the Italians.”
The fourth of nine children, Joe was born in 1925 in North Carolina. When he was four years old, his family moved to Glen Cove to escape the racism that was so pervasive in the south. Johnson graduated from Glen Cove High School in 1943 and then joined the Army Air Corps. Growing up on Long Island, the “Cradle of Aviation”, Johnson knew he wanted to become a pilot. He applied for the U.S. Army Air Corps flight training program and began pilot training at Tuskegee Airfield in Alabama in 1944.
After the war, Johnson attended college and then returned to his hometown of Glen Cove, where he raised three children. He worked at Grumman Aerospace for 28 years, eventually becoming a supervisor, and retired in 1990.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps (AAC), a precursor of the U.S. Air Force. Activated as the 99th Pursuit Squadron in September of 1941 at Chanute Field, Illinois, the Squadron trained at the Tuskegee Army Airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama, becoming known as the Tuskegee Airmen. The squadron included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, and instructors. During World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 15,000 individual sorties in Europe and North Africa, earning more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.
After the war in Europe ended in 1945, the Tuskegee Airmen returned to the U.S., where racial segregation remained the rule in both the U.S. armed forces, as well as throughout much of the country. Their 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, effectively setting the stage for racial integration throughout other areas of American society.
“When you were a Tuskegee Airman, the color of your skin didn’t matter, the content of your character did,” said Johnson. “I loved flying and the Tuskegee Airman gave me a chance, just like everybody else. It was my greatest adventure, and I am blessed to have been a participant.”