Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Tuskegee Airman and World War II Veteran, Lt. Col. Hiram E. Mann treated Timberland students to a speech they will never forget on Oct. 25.
A New York City native, Mann found a childhood passion that shaped his adult life.
“I was obsessed with model airplanes when I was a kid,” he said. “When (Charles) Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic, that stimulated me into wanting to fly.”
Mann was a bellhop at a hotel in Cleveland, Ohio when he applied to aviation school. He was turned down on two different occasions due to his education level, marital status and his race. As a black, married man without two years of college, he was not what was considered an ideal candidate. Persistence paid off the third time when he was admitted into the program in 1942.
“If anyone besides your parents tells you that you can’t do something, go out and prove them wrong. Just give it a chance,” he told the students.
He went to school in Tuskegee, Ala. where he became part of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, later portrayed in the movie Red Tails. The group was originally called the 332nd Fighter Group until 1972 when their current name took its form. Mann recalled the racial divide that was created on the base.
“They came in and said ‘Negroes on one side of the theatre and whites on the other side,’” he said. “There were ping pong and pool tables in the white club, meanwhile all the blacks, no matter how long they had served, were considered trainees.”
After a student asked him what it was like to change the world, he had a humble reply.
“I can look back and pat myself on the back for our contribution to ending segregation,” he said. “We knew we would not run when we got into combat. The feeling I have today about being a first class citizen, I feel great about it.”
The injustices Mann faced did not deter him from fighting for a distinct purpose.
“This is my country and even though I wasn’t treated fairly, I wanted to keep the Nazis away from my wife, my mother, my grandmother and my country.”
U.S. Department of Homeland Security transportation security and president of the Tuskegee Airman Hiram E. Mann Chapter in Walterboro Barron L. Wilkins invited the students to check out the chapter.
“You don’t have to be in the armed forces and you don’t have to be black. You just have to love the Tuskegee Airmen and appreciate what they accomplished,” he said.
After his time as a P-51D Mustang fighter pilot, Mann earned his bachelor’s degree, masters and doctorate in counseling and worked in the admissions office at the Air Force Academy.
President Kerry Daugherty took in the speech and recognized the significance of hosting Mann at the school.
“We are very honored to have (Mann) here. It’s not often you have a legend in your school and in Berkeley County we honor legends.”