It’s February, and here at Wayne Township we are celebrating not only Valentine’s and Presidents days but also Black History Month.
If you watched the Super Bowl this year you might have seen Col. Charles E. McGee conducting the coin toss to start the game. He was surrounded by Staff Sgt. Odón Sanchez Cardenas, Lt. Col. Samuel Lombardo and Cpl. Sidney Walton. As the NFL celebrated its 100th season this year, the commission had asked these four 100-year-old World War II veterans to join in on the Super Bowl festivities.
McGee was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and enlisted in the US Army in 1942. He became one of the Tuskegee Airmen after receiving his pilot’s wings in 1943. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the US service corps. As an airman, McGee flew top secret rescue missions and tactical flights engaged in attacking enemy airfields. In 2011 he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio, and this past December he received an honorary promotion to Brigadier General.
Two days after the Super Bowl, Mr. McGee was again on national television, this time as an honored guest at the president’s State of the Union address. He was there alongside his great-grandson, Iain Lanphier.
Following in his family’s tradition, 13-year-old Iain distinguished himself last year by becoming the top graduate of the Aerospace Career Education program, sponsored by the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals. President Trump said of Iain, “He aspires to go to the Air Force Academy, and then, he has his eye on the Space Force. As Iain says, ‘most people look up at space; I want to look down at the world.’”
Last year Trustee Austin Knox’s maternal grandfather, Kenneth “Pat” Gaines, passed away at the age of 86. He was the subject of a Black History month story that aired on two of our local news channels. (You can watch a video of one of these stories at this link: www.facebook.com/watch/ ?v=2328078367479015 )
“Pat Gaines was one of the first African Americans hired for NASA’s space mission, serving as an army medical technician on the rescue team for Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, Skylab One and Two, and on the aircraft carriers that plucked astronauts from the sea after touchdown.”
Gaines was part of the rescue team, known as the Angels of Mercy, that attempted to save the three astronauts who perished in the 1967 Apollo 1 accident; Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. Trapped in their command module that had caught fire on the inside, the astronauts were asphyxiated. The rescue team did all they could to save them.
“My grandpa was one of the first ones there and tried to get the hatch open but unfortunately they couldn’t,” recalls Knox. Sometimes heroic measures are just not enough.
These are just a few of the heroes we are celebrating during Black History Month, alongside the family members who love them and are so proud of their achievements.
After all love is what Valentine’s Day is all about.