Portraits of Tuskegee Airmen: Leo Gray
By Redtail.org ~ The CAF Red Tail Squadron has many special relationships with original Tuskegee Airmen, and we absolutely treasure them. These American heroes are unique, continuing to inspire us as much today as when they fought fascism abroad and racism back home in the era of WWII. We are honored to stand beside these great role models at many of our outreach events around the country. Leo Gray, an original Tuskegee Airmen and pilot, continues to share his experience with our audiences, inspiring the next generation to RISE ABOVE.
Gray, born in Boston, volunteered for service in 1943. He went to flight school at Tuskegee Army Airfield where he qualified for single-engine fighters. He was then assigned to Ramitelli, Italy where he flew 15 combat missions in the P-51 Mustang, logging 750 flight hours. He served 3 years and seven months active duty, and remained in the United States Air Force Reserves until 1984. He retired after 41 years of service with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
“The Tuskegee Airmen are a classic example of overcoming adversity, and people in our country should know about it,” said Gray. “It is worthwhile for everyone.”
During his military career, Gray was awarded the Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, a Presidential Unit Citation and the Mediterranean Theatre of Operation Ribbon with three Battle Stars. The Tuskegee Airmen collectively were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by Congress in 2007 to recognize their “unique military record that inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces.”
After the war, Gray earned a Bachelor of Science at the University of Massachusetts and a Masters degree at the University of Nebraska, both in agricultural economics. For 30 years, Gray coordinated research for the USDA. He credits his military service as the catalyst that helped his civilian career by giving him the skill and perseverance to be successful.
Gray has played a leading role in the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. organization, serving as president of the Miami and East Coast chapters. He also helped to form a new chapter in Walterboro, South Carolina, the location of advanced combat training for Tuskegee-trained pilots before being shipped overseas to combat from 1943 to 1945.
He is also a dedicated member of the Boys & Girls Club of America – of which he was a member himself in his youth – and is a co-founder of the organization’s Ionosphere Club in Broward County, Florida. This unique group gives members the opportunity to learn about all aspects of flying, including science and mechanics.
“There are many young people, especially in urban areas, who have not been exposed to aviation,” remarks Gray. “They need to understand what’s available for them. Aviation is a field with many openings. Pilots and support personnel are in demand because of many retirements. People need to understand the impact that aviation has on different areas of the country.”
Gray has been gracious enough to help make our outreach visits even more impactful and inspiring by appearing at several of our events. For example, earlier this year, Gray joined us in Florida to speak directly to school groups about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, and how students can utilize the Squadron’s Six Principles in their own lives – Aim High, Believe In Yourself, Use Your Brain, Be Ready To Go, Never Quit, Expect to Win.
“The CAF Red Tail Squadron is one of the few organizations that has a hands-on approach to opening peoples’ eyes to aviation and the history of the Tuskegee Airmen,” he says. “The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit gives young people the opportunity to find out things that might never have been exposed to.”
Thanks to the ongoing hard work and perseverance of Tuskegee Airmen, including Lt Col (Ret) Gray, younger generations are learning not only about an important piece of American history, but about what grit, determination and strength of character really means.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.
It is with deep regret we report the passing of Leo R. Gray, a beloved Charter Member of Post 365. Leo will be greatly missed and fondly remembered.