Goodbye, Lt. Col. Elridge Williams, One of the Last Surviving Tuskegee Airmen [1917-2015]

Another Tuskegee Airman, the first all-black military flying unit that came into being during WWII, passed away – Lt. Col. Elridge Williams – leaving the declining number of the brave crew from 26 to only 25 surviving members.

Lt. Col. Elridge Williams died in his home at Kendall area two days before Independence Day. He was 97.

Exemplary Service

Lt. Col. Elridge Williams was born in Washington County, Texas on November 2, 1917. At the time of the draft for World War Two, he was already a senior in college. The late WWII and Korean War veteran went on to earn his college degree at Xavier University on New Orleans in 1941 before he joined the army.

First commissioned as Second Lieutenant on Miami Beach in 1941, Williams went to Officer Candidate School on the Beach with Hollywood legend Clark Gable. However, while Gable enjoyed the respect a white man got during that said era, Williams wasn’t afforded any.

When graduation day came, while families rushed to their graduating loved ones on the stage to pin the US Flag on their beige jackets, Williams had to crouch down, place his jacket on the sand and pin the US Flag himself on it. His family couldn’t attend his graduation. They were not welcomed.

“All around, there are signs that say blacks and whites. In spite of the difficulties, you still carried out your job,” he said to a group of Miami school children when he talked to them way back in 2009 during an honoring event.

Later on, he was assigned to the Tuskegee Institute. But the army doctor grounded him because of poor eyesight. So, he became a fitness and survival trainer in the institute, preparing the Tuskegee Airmen before they embark on their mission escorting bomber planes across Europe.

Though expressing that he wanted to fly himself, “I wanted to go because if you are on the team, you want to play” being his exact words, Williams made the most of task assigned to him until WWII ended.

Post-War Life

Lt. Col Elridge Williamss military career did not end with the Second World War. He served during the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and he did again during the Korean War.

Eventually, he retired from military service in 1963 and went on teaching physical education at Richmond Heights Middle School. He became administrator two years after with the task of integrating Dade County public schools. He retired from this line of job in 1985.

According to Rosa White, Williams’ companion for 17 years, the WWII and Korean War vet loved mentoring kids. He was especially concern with the dropout situation in schools and had wanted to see programs that involved school dropouts.

“That was his big thing,” she added.

Pondering on his military service years, Williams had this to say: “For years, I thought what else could I have done to change the course of events. The laws at the time just did not allow for much to happen. But when you look up at an airplane in the sky, you can’t tell if a pilot is black or white.”

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Elridge Williams’ funeral will take place on Tuesday, July 21, 11 AM at Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church. He will be buried at the Arlington National Cemetery at a later date.

Goodbye and our last salute to you, Lt. Col. Elridge Williams, one of the exemplary all-black flying squadron, the Tuskegee Airmen!

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE