Some of you know that February is Black History month, and probably slightly fewer of you know that March is Women’s History Month. I’ll be honest, I had to double check both of those with Wikipedia.
Here in Southwest Maintenance and Engineering, it’s easy to forget which culture we’re supposed to be celebrating each month. Not because we’re insensitive or unfocused on diversity—quite the opposite. It’s just that we are a bunch of aviation geeks here in the garage. Aviation history is just one of the many things that our mechanical minds want to get to the bottom of.
Well, it’s probably also easy to forget because let’s face it: this is Southwest. We’re always celebrating. I actually discovered the Tuskegee Airmen at their annual celebration and hangar tour. I watched as our Mechanics wheeled in elderly African American men wearing bright red jackets in January. The Mechanics showed off the giant “birds” and leaned over to hear the older men’s stories. Eager young women and men watched attentively as Mechanic Robert Williams explained about our engines or pointed out that the “black box” is actually orange. Proud parents and teachers took pictures as the group toured the hangar.
I asked Mechanic Gordon Guillory about the event. He’s the president of our local chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, and he explained that this tour was an award that the students had won by writing essays. The gentlemen in the red jackets were pioneering World War II veterans called the Tuskegee Airmen. Serving in a segregated unit, these airmen, ground crews, and mechanics ferried B-17 Bombers and reconnaissance planes into battle. Their accomplishments were overlooked at the time, and when they returned to civilian life, the doors to a career in aviation were often closed.
Today, Tuskegee Airmen chapters honor the remaining original Airmen, and they focus on educating young people about opportunities in aviation. Gordon was inspired by the example of these “greatest generation” heroes not long into his own career.
“There were so few of us African Americans in aviation,” said Gordon, “so when I heard something about World War II guys who’d been pilots, I started researching. There was no internet then; I had to go to the library.”
The other place Gordon went was to his Coworkers. Maintenance Warranty Specialist Donna Dillon knew just how to get Gordon on the right path to interacting with his aviation history heroes. She had already been learning about and working with World War II Women Air Service Pilots. No one in the office was more excited when the WASP won their Congressional Medal in 2009 than Donna…but a lot of us were really excited!
That’s the thing about the LUV we share here in Maintenance. It’s infectious. We all have the aviation bug and we want to share it—with each other, with the next generation of aviators, and with the past. I’m proud to be at a place where history doesn’t need a placeholder—it’s honored and celebrated all the time.