Friday is Veteran's Day. For many military families, an understanding of service is common knowledge, but St. Petersburg native Willie Rogers was 97 years old before his daughters learned about his status - as one of the first black men to serve as military aviators and support staff in the U.S. armed forces during World War II.
WUSF's Lisa Peakes speaks with Veronica Williams and Felicia Rogers about their father.
LISA: All that time - you never knew your father was a Tuskegee Airman? VERONICA AND FELICIA: No. No. FELICIA: He wasn't a pilot, so why would we think he was uh... LISA: And what was his reaction? VERONICA. Just nonchalant. I think he said once there were greater men than me who deserved the recognition. They did all the work. I was just happy to serve.
LISA: It wasn't until 2012 that Veronica and Felicia learned their father was an Original Documented Tuskegee Airman. He received a Congressional Gold Medal for his service in November 2013. As Felicia Williams mentioned, Willie Rogers was not a pilot. He was recognized because of the work he did on the ground.
VERONICA: Administration. He typed. And that's what we knew. Behind the scenes - taking nothing away from the pilots, but if the mechanic didn't do their part, you know, to have a good machine going, if the person in purchasing didn't order the right parts and where Daddy would come in if he didn't type up the purchase order or whatever... there's a whole lot.
LISA: Veronica Williams says her father was a proud veteran, but he almost never talked about his service because the subject of war may have been too difficult.
VERONICA: I can only imagine - not only the atrocities that may have been done towards him or him watching his, you know, comrades and just seeing the other harshness in war. Who would want to repeat and remember that?
LISA: And there's another reason.
VERONICA: It was a hard way to go for African Americans, okay? FELICIA: You know, with segregation, just the way they treated the Tuskegee Airmen; the pilots. VERONICA: There was a lot of hatred, there was a lot of strong negative feelings. I can understand why he wouldn't say anything.
LISA: Willie Rogers passed away last November as the oldest surviving member of The Tuskegee Airmen - a few months before his one hundred and second birthday - and before being honored by the President of The United States. Willie Rogers didn't get a chance to know he was recognized at the highest level for his service, but that acknowledgement is cherished by his daughters - and represents all who work behind the scenes in the U.S. military.