Sgt. Preston Jowers, the oldest living member of the Tuskegee Airmen at the age of 102, recently spoke out about racism decades after he helped to desegregate the U.S. Armed Forces.
The legendary military pilot said that the racial discrimination that he experienced flying with his fellow serviceman in the nation’s first all-Black aviation unit during World War II is still a major problem that “breaks his heart,” People reports.
“I just have to ask, ‘Why?’” Jowers, who now lives in the American House independent senior living community in Southfield, Michigan, told People. “We proved all those years ago that black men and women weren’t dummies, we showed the nation that we are capable of doing a job and doing it well, but racism — it just hasn’t stopped.”
Jowers also wants “young people to realize that [they] too can make it and make a difference” like he did, the report says.
Jowers was 27 when he got drafted during WWII after growing up in Douglas, Georgia. His main duties as a Tuskegee Airman were to ensure that all plane engines and instruments were in good condition.
However, his time as an airman was rife with racism, People writes:
“We couldn’t eat together, we couldn’t fight the war with white men,” he recalls. “…It was some of the worst segregation I’d ever seen…So what we did was stop and put God on our side and try to love each other — and that’s what we need to do now as a country.”
The Tuskegee airman received an honorary discharge and later went into the trucking business. He got married in 1943 and had five children.
Jowers cited his loving marriage and children as reasons for his happily long life, Detroit news station WDIV-TV reported.
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