Inside the Gates: Last surviving member of the 477 Bombardment Group visits JBER
He's the last surviving member of the 477 Bombardment Group and a Tuskegee Airman. Even at the age of 93, US Army Air Corp Staff Sergeant Leslie Edwards, Jr., still remembers what it was like to help keep military aircraft and pilots safe in the air.
The 477 was changed from a bomber group to a fighter group in 2007. Recently at JBER, Edwards helped celebrate their 10-year anniversary.
As the sun slowly rose over the horizon, members of the 477 Fighter Group welcomed one of the "originals." The Staff Sergeant once served in one of four Tuskegee Airmen bomber squadrons during World War II.
Drafted back in 1943, Edwards worked as an aircraft engine mechanic on planes a few decades older than today's jet fighters. Back then, Edwards says keeping planes well maintained was the order of the day.
"They went after stuff without hesitation, or without any question about, you wouldn't be scratching your head or shuffling your feet, get it done. Then back away from it, and enjoy yourself, and drink some beer together and acknowledge how you got that done," said Edwards.
That camaraderie he shared with his fellow mechanics was soon torn apart by racism.
"The order came down, we have to separate the whites from the blacks. That's one of the worst things that ever happened to me in my military service, 'cause me and the white guys were doing it."
Those dark days are now behind him. During his visit, Edwards was amazed at how far military aircraft mechanics have come. He spent his time learning about the F-22 Raptor, the Air Force's newest fighter aircraft.
The F-22 is a critical component of the global strike task force, and one of its missions is to protect air dominance. Edwards says it's poised to handle any enemy that wants to put up a challenge.
"That alone will change a fool's attitude about being a problem to the United States," said the Staff Sergeant.
It's a legacy that continues to keep our pilots and all who support them flying higher and faster than ever.