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Tuskegee Airman speaks at campus event

Published: Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Updated: Thursday, March 8, 2012 17:03

Spann

Nick Bailey / The East Texan

Lt. Calvin J. Spann, former Tuskegee Airman, makes his way to the stage with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority President Amanda Berkhalter.

A warm welcome was made for First Lt. Calvin J. Spann from the Tuskegee Airmen when he made his appearance in front of Texas A&M University-Commerce students and Commerce community members on Wednesday, March 8 in the Ferguson Auditorium.

Having flown in 26 combat missions during his lifetime, Spann recalled stories as a part of the Tuskegee Airmen, America's first African American pilots in World War II.

Growing up near a small airport in New Jersey on the Hudson River, Spann had the dream of becoming a pilot at a young age. When World War II broke out, his friends who were drafted at the time encouraged him to pursue his dream in flying.

Spann had little trouble with the examination to admit him into the Tuskegee Airmen and was quickly on a path to a legendary future. 

There was only a slight obstacle holding Spann back.

"Because of my age," he said, "I had to come home and ask ‘Mom, could I go?' My mom was reluctant to say ‘yes.' My mom's sister had five sons in active duty in the service at one time. My mother didn't want to let her one son go, but she was accustomed to let me do things that I wanted to do that she didn't have the confidence in."

There was no hesitation after that for Spann to jump onto a plane to pursue his childhood dream.

As he would fly over the Alps, he recalled a feeling of fear as there was no safe place to land. It was in those moments that Spann was most grateful for the ground crew, the mechanics who took good care of his planes.

"I want to take my hat off to the mechanics," he said in their honor. "Because they did good work on our planes, I am able to stand before you today and give them praise."

Spann recalled a memory in which he first received credit for the explosion of a German fighter jet. He mentioned that moments like that were bitter-sweet.

Pilots think about each other the same, he said, and hate seeing one pilot die for their country no matter what country they are from.

"[Pilots] are a special brand of people," he said.

When his days of flying ended, Spann continued doing his part in the civil rights movement.

"After I got my 20th mission in, the war ended [after the bombing of Berlin]," Spann said. ""I was able to be a part of one of the very important civil rights things in this country. It's called affirmative action. At this point, blacks could go into white colleges."

Upon returning to the states, Spann furthered his education and became a pharmaceutical salesman. Although he had to go on with a new career after the war, Spann has no doubt that being a part of the Tuskegee Airmen was an unforgettable time fulfilling a childhood dream.

"I'm a flyer now; I can fly airplanes," he said.

The program – hosted by Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority – also featured Greenville High School National Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) students and a presentation made by Alumni Relations Director Derryle Peace for Trailblazer honorees. Spann was also honored as a Trailblazer for A&M-Commerce

Mayor of Commerce Quay Throgmorton declared March 7, 2012 to be "Tuskegee Airmen Day," as presented by Vice President of Student Access and Success Mary W. Hendrix.

 "We are so very grateful to have such an honorable man in our presence," President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Amanda Berkhalter said. 

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