Ret. Lt. Col. USAF Charles “C.I.” Williams, a forerunner for blacks in the United States Air Force and a community leader, died Sunday.
Williams, 96, died at the Dayton VA Medical Center, according to his goddaughter Alma Clarke of Butler Township. He was one of the oldest living Tuskegee Airmen in the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.’s Ohio Memorial Chapter, according to Edward Morast, chapter president.
The Tuskegee Airmen, the first black pilots of the United States military, were part of a 1940s-era military training experiment known as the Tuskegee Experiment that took place on the black college campus of Tuskegee Institute.
“They opened the doors, suffered indignity and went through segregation. So, after them it was a lot easier for guys like myself,” said Morast, a retired USAF Tech. Sgt. “I don’t think I have ever met anyone that was as more humble as he was.”
Williams was a founding member of the TAI’s Ohio chapter and often spoke about his experiences at numerous public events.
If you ever wanted someone to look up to, Williams was that person, according to Clarke. She said he would tell people, “be the best person that you can be and know (that) things won’t always go your way. Life is not fair at times, but it’s your responsibility to make the best of it.”
Last year, the Lima native told the Dayton Daily News that he wanted to be a pilot after seeing a trimotor airplane, carrying mail, fly over his home at the age of 11. He would later become the deputy commander of a jet bomber wing while serving the U.S. military in France.
Williams was a trustee emeritus of the National Aviation Hall of Fame. “Dayton has lost a true hero,” said Ron Kaplan, Enshrinement director for the NAHF.
Williams graduated from the Tuskegee Army Airfield in 1943, according to Sandra Campbell, National Public Relations officer for Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. He was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group during his military career. This fighter group included Tuskegee-trained pilots known as the Red Tails, who became famous for their bomber escorts during missions in Germany.
In 2007, the Tuskegee Airmen received the Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush.
Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Frances McGee Cromartie, a friend of Williams, said young people can learn a lesson in dignity from Williams’s life.
“A lot of times young people talk about being disrespected and we see a lot of violence in this community because somebody disrespected them. Here was a man who took far more disrespect back then, than our young people have ever seen and he fought it with dignity,” McGee Cromartie said.
He is survived by Grace, his wife of 48 years and his son, Charles.
Funeral services will begin 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Tabernacle Baptist Church, 380 S. Broadway St. with a presentation by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. The hour-long visitation will start at 11 a.m., followed by a homegoing celebration.