|Several Tuskegee Airmen were honored Tuesday night by Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes and the Board of Chosen Freeholders. Holding proclamations are, from left, Dr. Leslie A. Hayling; Barbara O’Neal, representing her late brother, Elwood T. Driver; and Sherri Eure Washington, representing her late father, Jerry H. Eure Sr. They are surrounded by county officials, family members and friends.|
MEDIA CONTACT: Julie Willmot
TRENTON - Four members of the renowned Tuskegee Airmen – the first black combat pilots -- were honored Tuesday night by Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes and the Board of Chosen Freeholders.
The county officials awarded joint proclamations recognizing the accomplishments of Tuskegee Airmen Robert L. Baker, Dr. Leslie A. Hayling and the late Elwood T. Driver and Jerry H. Eure Sr., all of whom have ties to Trenton, in celebration of Black History Month.
The Tuskegee Airmen -- named for the location of the Alabama airfield where black pilots, technicians and mechanics trained -- overcame segregation and prejudice to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II. Their exploits paved the way for full integration of the military shortly after the war and now are the subject of the movie “Red Tails,” which was recently released by 20th Century Fox.
“These men were heroes, not just for what they did as soldiers but also for increasing opportunities for African-American citizens at home,” Hughes said.
Born and raised in Trenton and now a resident of Ewing, Baker, 91, was the first black captain of the Trenton Central High School track team, which won a state championship. He served as an aeronautical engineer with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, and later went on to a successful engineering career with General Motors in Ewing.
Hayling, 84, a Trenton native, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps after turning 18 in 1945. He trained with the Tuskegee Airmen as an aviation cadet but the war ended before he had a chance to see combat. He then pursued his dental degree, graduating from the Howard University College of Dentistry in 1952, and has practiced dentistry for the past 60 years. He lives on West State Street.
Driver, who also was born in Trenton, served as a combat pilot and flight leader in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Serving in the black 99th Fighter Squadron, he shot down a German plane over Italy in 1944. He retired from the Air Force as a major in 1962 and went on to become a high-ranking safety official with two federal transportation agencies. In 1978 he was appointed to the National Transportation Safety Board by President Jimmy Carter. Driver died in 1992 at his home in Reston, Virginia.
Eure Sr. was born in Virginia but later settled in Trenton. After serving in the Army Air Corps as a Tuskegee pilot from 1942-45, he was honorably discharged with the Medal of Good Conduct and the Victory Medal. He later was employed at RCA in Princeton and retired from the State of New Jersey after working for the Departments of Transportation and Community Affairs. He was slain in 2007, at the age of 84, during a robbery at his home on Edgewood Avenue.
Hayling was at the freeholder meeting to accept his proclamation Tuesday night; Baker was unable to attend. Family members were there to accept the proclamations awarded to Driver and Eure Sr.