Thomas H. Mayfield, one of the original Tuskegee Airman and township resident for more than 40 years, has died.
Mayfield died Friday of natural causes, his family said Saturday. He was 95.
The retired lieutenant colonel earned distinction as one of the first black aviators in the U.S. armed forced and served in World War II, as well as the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.
In 1987, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest honors in the United States, for his service as an aviator with the Army Air Corps.
“He was everything a man was supposed to be,” said son Thomas A. Mayfield. “If you were to find a picture of a true man, father, brother, uncle — that was him.”
Mayfield was born in Shinnston, W.Va., the son of a coal miner and a homemaker.
He attended Bluefield State College in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia on a football scholarship, but left in his junior year when a unique opportunity to serve the United States presented itself.
Mayfield only went to take the test to join the Army Air Corps in order to support his roommate who was also sitting for the exam.
His roommate failed, but Mayfield wound up passing without any study or preparation, his son said.
“His father had told him that if he ever said he was going to do something, he had to honor it,” Thomas A. Mayfield said. “He had no idea how he was going to explain this to his parents.”
His family didn’t have a telephone in Shinnston, so by the time they found out, Mayfield was already training in Alabama to be one of the first group of black combat pilots in U.S. history.
He served in the European theater of World War II, but the challenges he faced as a black man in the 1940s-era military were, his son said, “alarming.”
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