Tuskegee Airman Visits Valdosta State University

March 15, 2012

Tuskegee Airman Visits Valdosta State University

VALDOSTA -- “The Tuskegee Airmen legacy is one that is best told by the airmen themselves,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Marsha L. Aleem, commander of AFROTC Detachment 172 at Valdosta State University. “Movies have been made about them but only they can convey the struggles they faced fighting for a country that saw them as second-class citizens.”

With this in mind, AFROTC, Detachment 172 at VSU will welcome retired Lt. Col. Leo R. Gray, one of only 40 surviving black pilots who fought in World War II, to tour VSU and the Valdosta community on Wednesday, March 21 and Thursday, March 22.

On Wednesday, Gray will meet with the university’s administration, students in the African American Studies program and airmen at Moody Air Force Base. He will end his day with a special visit to the Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta. The next day he will spend time with cadets from AFROTC Det. 172 at VSU, AFJROTC cadets from Lowndes High School and students from Valdosta High School.

A special viewing of the Tuskegee Airmen documentary, In their Own Words: The Tuskegee Airmen, will be held Thursday at 3:30 p.m. in Jennett Lecture Hall. The documentary will be followed by a question and answer session with Gray. The event is open to the campus and community. Gray will be available for pictures and autographs after the program.

The first black military pilots to serve the United States, the Tuskegee Airmen played a significant role in World War II contrary to the military’s belief that an all-black air unit could not be successful.

“They endured the battle in the air against the Germans as well as a battle within the U.S. Army Air Corps to shatter the belief that Negroes were not fit to fly,” said Aleem. “They turned this adversity into victory with a successful record defending bomber aircraft. Lt. Col. Gray’s visit to Valdosta, a town rich in military history, is important because it gives the community an opportunity to get to meet him and hear his personal accounts first hand.”

Gray joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and began his aviation cadet training in 1943. He graduated from the Tuskegee Army Air Field a year later as a second lieutenant, single engine pilot.

While stationed in Italy as a fighter pilot, Gray flew 15 combat missions, with a total of 750 hours of flying time. He left active duty in 1946 and served in U.S. Air Force Reserves until 1984. During his 41-year service, Gray earned a Coveted Air Medal with one Oak Leaf cluster and a Presidential Unit Citation.

Gray holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts and a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska. He worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 30 years serving in many capacities including technical assistant, agricultural economist, economist and director of program planning. He has also served as an economic consultant to the USDA in West Africa.

Gray is a past president, vice president and treasurer of the East Coast Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., founder and past president of the Forum on Blacks in Agriculture, past president of Good Hope East Civic Association and a former member of the Richmond, California Model Neighborhood Citizens Board.

Other memberships include the Air Force Association, the Retired Officers Association and the NAACP. Gray has also done extensive travel around the world. He is a widower and has six children and ten grandchildren.

For questions, please contact VSU’s AFROTC Detachment at 229-259-2032 or send an email toafrotcadmin@valdosta.edu.