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ODU Awards Honorary Doctorates to Five Tuskegee Airmen of Hampton Roads

At spring commencement exercises May 4 and 5, Old Dominion University awarded honorary doctorates to five veterans of World War II, all of whom are members of the Hampton Roads chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Tuskegee Airmen refers to all who were involved in the so-called "Tuskegee Experiment," the Army Air Corps program to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft during World War II. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.

In presenting the candidates for the honorary degree of humane letters at the three ceremonies, held May 4 and 5, President John Broderick said: "Due to their hard work and determination, the Tuskegee Airmen overcame segregation and prejudice to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups during that time."

Following their introduction on the commencement stage, each recipient received a heartfelt, standing ovation.

Brief bios of the recipients follow:

Wilbert Gore Sr. was working at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth in 1943 when he was drafted into the service during World War II. He became an aerial engineer, with the rank of corporal, and served with a group of Tuskegee Airmen ferrying C-47 planes between California and Hawaii. One of the pilots he flew with - Daniel "Chappie" James Jr. - went on to become the first black four-star general in U.S. history.

After the war, Gore took a civilian position servicing Navy aircraft in Norfolk, a job he performed for 37 years.

Ezra Hill, a native of Newport News, enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Fort Meade, Md., in 1947, completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and was assigned to Lockbourne Air Force Base in Columbus, Ohio. His primary duty was in Crash and Rescue, but he spent most of his time in Special Services Activities.

While working in Crash and Rescue, Hill helped to remove then Col. B.O. Davis Jr. from his damaged plane upon landing at Lockbourne. Davis was the leader of the Tuskegee Airmen who later became the first black three-star general.

Hill was reassigned to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., in 1949, and in 1953 he was assigned to Tokyo International Airport in Japan for three years in Crash and Rescue, but still devoted much of his time to Special Services Activities. In 1956, he was relocated to McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., and retrained in the electronics field as a weapons systems technician.

After retirement, the former Tuskegee Airman master sergeant taught in the Newport News Public Schools for a year and worked with the Navy at Naval Air Station Norfolk for 18 years as a computer technician supervisor before retiring a second time.

Hill and his wife founded the SMF (Save My Family) Haven of Hope of Newport News, a nonprofit charitable organization whose mission is to aid children and families residing in one of the poorest sections of the city, which he refers to as "The Bottom." Hill was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2007 and is the author of the book "The Red Tail Angels: A Story of the Tuskegee Airman."

Francis Horne, of Hampton, became a Tuskegee Airman when he was 20. Seeking adventure and eager to leave his West Palm Beach, Fla., home, he trained at Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama as an aircraft mechanic's helper and a radio repairman. Although he reached the rank of sergeant, he never flew a plane, but was part of the ground crew.

In a recent interview, Horne stated that he was bitter after the war because of the bigotry he experienced in the military, and went home and threw away his uniform. However, he found that he couldn't readjust to civilian life, so he enrolled at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), and joined the ROTC program. After two years, in 1948, he earned a commission.

Horne was called to active duty during the Korean War. Although President Harry Truman had ordered the Armed Forces to integrate in 1948, units reluctant to integrate would squeak by the order with a single "necessary Negro," as Horne remembered them being called, himself included. Because he was the only black man in his unit at Fort Bliss, Texas, Horne decided to become better at his job than everyone else.

Horne, who was 35 when he was sent to Korea, recalls that at one of the many military receptions he attended, he met a Korean officer who changed his life. The officer referred to him as an American, and Horne stated that, 7,000 miles from home, it was the first time in his life he had been called an American. The former Tuskegee Airman said it was a turning point in his life. Horne retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Horne was unable to attend commencement and will be awarded his degree at a later date.

Harry Quinton, a retired agent of the U.S. Treasury Department, was born in Salisbury, Md., and currently lives in Williamsburg. Upon completion of high school, he attended Atlantic Aviation Institute in Trenton, N.J., and Casey Jones School of Aeronautics in Newark, N.J.

He received an airplane engine mechanic license from the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board. Shortly thereafter, in 1943, he joined the Army Enlisted Reserve and was assigned to the Army Air Corps. After completion of basic training at Keesler Field, Miss., he was assigned to the 477th Bombardment Group, 602nd Air Engineering Squadron at Godman Field, Ky., where he served as an airplane mechanic. At the conclusion of World War II and having attained the rank of sergeant, he was honorably discharged.

Quinton's military education included completion of the B-25 Bomber School at the North American Aircraft Plant in Pasadena, Calif., and ground school at Godman Field. He was awarded the Good Conduct Medal, American Theatre Ribbon, World War II Victory Ribbon and the AAF Tech Badge with mechanic's bar.

Grant Williams, of Hampton, was a mechanic in the 332nd Fighter Group, one of two U.S. Army Air Corps units to make up the Tuskegee Airmen.

He was inducted into the U.S. Army in 1942 and sent to Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama for basic training. He graduated 35th in his class of 276 students.

In 1944, Williams was deployed to Italy, where he served until 1945. He was honorably discharged from the Army Air Corps in November 1945 and immediately enlisted in the Reserve Forces.

He was recalled to active duty in 1950 and served for the next 24 years in various assignments, including tours in Japan, Turkey and Vietnam. Williams retired in 1975 with the rank of chief master sergeant.

During his years of service, Williams was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and Bronze Star Medal First Oak Leaf Cluster. In 2007, he and other documented original Tuskegee Airmen received the Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush.