One of only 43 surviving, black World War II pilots visited the VSU campus on Wednesday and will be on campus today to continue his tour of the school and the Valdosta community.
Retired Lt. Col. Leo R. Gray, who served as one of the famous Red Tail pilots and Tuskegee Airmen, met with the African- American program, Moody Air Force Base pilots and the Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta on Wednesday.
Today, Gray will spend the day with cadets from AFROTC Det. 172 at VSU, AFJROTC cadets from Lowndes High School and students from Valdosta High School.�
Also being held this afternoon will be a special viewing of the Tuskegee Airmen documentary, “In their Own Words: The Tuskegee Airmen,” at 3:30 p.m. in Jennett Lecture Hall, followed by a question and answer session with Gray.
The event is open to the entire campus and Gray has also made himself available for pictures and autographs after the program.
“The Tuskegee Airmen experience is the first time that the United States government embarked on any major program, with any major minority group, in which they set forth a hypothesis, measure a performance and evaluate the results – this ended up being a positive experience,” Gray, said.
The Tuskegee Airmen are famous for being the first, black military pilots to serve the U.S. and playing a significant role in WWII.
Red Tail pilots are a group of the Tuskegee Airmen that are considered to be elite among all of the airmen for their special efforts in the war.
“All Red Tails are Tuskegee Airmen, but all Tuskegee Airmen are not Red Tails,” Gray, said.
Gray began serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 and left active duty in 1946, continuing to serve in the U.S. Air Force Reserve until 1984. During this time, he flew 15 combat missions (750 hours of total flying time) and was awarded a Coveted Air Medal with One Oak Leaf Cluster as well as a Presidential Unit Citation.
“Anyone who’s been in the military would acknowledge that they have been impacted positively,” Gray, said. “One thing that you have to learn is that if you want to accomplish anything, you have to persevere – if you’re a quitter, then you’ll never make it.”
Gray is a member of the East Coast Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, the Forum on Blacks in Agriculture, Good Hope East Civic Association and Richmond, California Model Neighborhood Citizens Board.