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  The Tuskegee Airmen

Part 6

An original Tuskegee Airman, Eldridge Williams applied for aviation cadet training in 1940, a year prior to the beginning of the training of the 99th Pursuit Squadron. While at Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas, he was called to take a physical at the Kansas City airport.

He was rejected for a rare condition resulting from a severe and normally fatal head injury called cupping of the optic disc. As was the case with racism at that time, Williams suffered not from this injury, but from the desire to keep Black Americans from serving in the Army Air Force. 

Undaunted, he went in the engineer training battalion, later being promoted to sergeant. Williams would later fulfill his desire to become at Tuskegee Airman when he was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1942. He was later to become a director of physical fitness at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Williams would stay with the Airmen until 1946.

He then headed North Carolina A&T College basketball until he was recalled to active duty two years later in the 332nd flight/bomber group. Williams' armed force service would extend to 1963 after serving in Korean War and several military bases throughout the United States. The former lieutenant colonel went on to serve the Dade County School system for over 20 years, retiring as executive director of personnel in 1985. World War II instructor, Williams later spent over 20 years in the school system.

Eldridge Williams

Joseph T. Camilleri

Joseph T. Camilleri, a Brooklyn native who attended Harren Aviation High School in Manhattan, Camilleri started flying in 1933 at Floyd Bennett Field in New York City. Because of his Naval Air Reserve training, Camilleri was to become the first instructor for the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

"In 1940, due to my qualifications. I was summoned to Tuskegee Institute, Alabama to initiate a flight and ground school training program," he said. Camilleri took on the task of training young, eager Black cadets at a time when it was not fashionable for a Yankee from the North to associate with people of color in the South.

Camilleri's initiation of this flight program would later help train such noted Tuskegee Airmen as Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., Spann Watson, Hannibal Cox, Willie Fuller, Leo Gray and others. He was to stay in Tuskegee about a year before reporting to Wilmington Air Force Base in Delaware. Enjoyable tenure at Tuskegee was interrupted when I was summoned to active duty," he said.

Camilleri was to stay in the armed forces until 1946, leaving with the rank of captain. After this, he came to Miami to live and fly. Here he initially owned and operated three non-scheduled airlines, flew as a test pilot for L.B. Smith Services and started an aircraft maintenance base at Miami International Airport. In 1971 he started Electra Aircraft Parts, Inc. which he owns today. Camilleri is a charter member of the local chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. Camilleri helped train Benjamin O. Davis Jr., Spann Watson and others.


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