04/17/06 — Tuskegee Airman Eagleson dies at 86

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Tuskegee Airman Eagleson dies at 86

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on April 17, 2006 1:48 PM

Wilson V. Eagleson, an original member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, died Sunday. He was 86.

The unit of World War II fighter pilots broke the color barrier, leading to the integration of the armed forces, and eventually, all levels of American society.

Eagleson, a native of Indiana, lived in Dudley. Funeral arrangements were incomplete today.

Wilson V. Eagleson

Wilson V. Eagleson

Eagleson was modest about his personal achievements, but proud of the airmen's role in both winning the war and earning the right to be treated the same as his white counterparts.

"This is as much my country as anyone else's," he told an interviewer last year. "I should have the right to fight and die for it."

The local chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen association was named for Eagleson. Cleo Mason, a former president of the group, called Eagleson a role model.

"He was an outstanding individual, with a lot of integrity," Mason said.

Eagleson served in the Air Force for 30 years, earning two Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Some of his memorabilia is on display at the Smithsonian Institute.

Eagleson said he became interested in flying when, as a boy, he had a chance to ride with a barnstorming pilot. From then on, he knew what he wanted to do with his life.

The war gave him the chance.

He enlisted in 1942 and was assigned to the small group of pioneering black aviators being trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Ala.

The hundreds of black pilots and airmen who graduated from Tuskegee went on to post an impressive war record, with more than 15,000 combat sorties flown, 111 enemy aircraft shot down, 66 pilots killed in action and 32 shot down and captured. No U.S. bomber protected by a Tuskegee fighter pilot was ever shot down.

According to the unit's Web site, Eagleson, at the time a lieutenant, was credited with two combat kills in 1944 while a member of the 99th Fighter Squadron.