Two military veterans with ties to the National Museum of World War II Aviation in Colorado Springs will be featured in the History Channel documentary, “Tuskegee Airmen: Legacy of Courage.”
The one-hour program honors and remembers the more than 14,000 African-American men who were part of the Tuskegee aviation program during World War II. The documentary premiers Wednesday at 6 p.m. local time on the History Channel as part of its “Save Our History” campaign, which looks at everyday heroes from the past and present who have contributed to Black history.
The documentary is produced and narrated by “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts, whose father was a Tuskegee Airman.
Gene Pfeffer, historian of the non-profit museum near the Colorado Springs Airport, was one of the two Pikes Peak region men included in the documentary. Pfeffer, who served 30 years in the Air Force before retiring as a colonel, provided historical information about the Tuskegee Airmen and their efforts to serve as combat pilots.
“I think the Tuskegee Airmen served quite a role in society beyond their contribution to the military effort,” Pfeffer said. “And I think they represent heroes to a lot of people, and they should.”
The first class of Black fighter pilots began their training in Alabama in 1941 with the first five graduates earning their wings in 1942. They often battled segregation and distrust within military ranks 20 years before the Civil Rights movement. But their achievements on the battlefield helped lay the foundation to a desegregated military.
“A lot of folks don’t appreciate that these Tuskegee Airmen, were to a significant degree, an inspiration for Martin Luther King,” said retired Air Force Col. Mark Dickerson, president of the Denver-based Hubert L. “Hooks” Jones Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc.
“These guys, by being determined, by kicking down doors and knocking down barriers, opened doors that you and your parents later were able to go through.”
Dickerson met the late Franklin J. Macon – a Tuskegee Airman, Colorado Springs resident and lifelong aviator in the 1990s when they were both members of the High Flights Soaring Club at Meadow Lake Airport in Peyton.
Macon, who died in November at 97 years old, is the second area resident included in the documentary.
“He was truly one of a great generation,” Dickerson said of Macon in a previous Gazette interview. “So many people … have so much respect for him.”
Macon grew up in Colorado Springs, attending what is now Palmer High School. He learned to fly at Pine Valley Airport, now the Air Force Academy. Macon enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943. He began flight training the following year and ruptured both of his eardrums during a training flight. It took nearly a year for him to recover and by the time he did, he hadn’t graduated and World War II was over.
He earned his wings and worked at Fort Carson for 23 years, retiring as head of aircraft maintenance. Macon enjoyed working with his hands.
“He had a heart for people who wanted to go into the trades,” Dickerson said.
The Frank Macon Trades Scholarship Charitable Trust was established in 2019 to provide scholarships for young people interested in learning a trade.
Macon also donated his 1944 Stinson V-77 Reliant aircraft, which he renovated in the 1950s, to the National Museum of World War II Aviation on Veterans Day, 2019.
Pfeffer, curator and historian of the museum, is thrilled to have the aircraft as part of its permanent collection. Pfeffer also enjoys volunteering, leading tours and educating people on World War II history.
The museum sits on 21 acres at 775 Aviation Way on the west side of the Colorado Springs Airport. It is open Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Find pricing and additional information here, www.worldwariiaviation.org.
The museum opened in 2012, has grown to its current size in October 2019 and has plans for future growth. Nearly two dozen aircraft and 1,500 artifacts are on display. Some of the aircraft include the Grumman F7F-3 Tigercat, P-47D Thunderbolt, and the B-25J Mitchell, which was flown by Tuskegee Airmen.
“I don’t think it (the museum) is as well-known as it should be,” Pfeffer said. “But we get a pretty decent crowd through word of mouth. We are the museum for World War II aviation.”