Lt. Haldane King (1921-2013)

Lt. Haldane King was a charter member of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen

In 2007, Lt. Haldane King was awarded the 2007 Congressional Gold Medal for his service as part of the Tuskegee Airmen and he was very proud to wear it

Haldane King served as a US military navigator during World War II. He was born November 8, 1921 in Brooklyn, NY.

The Tuskegee Airmen were known for heroic combat service in support of Allied Forces in the European Theater. They served with the 332d Expeditionary Operations Group and the 477th Bombardment Group, both largely Black units of the United States Army Air Forces. Haldane King was born in 1921. He was one of seven children born to Charles King and Estelle Livingstone. He attended schools in Brooklyn, excelling in basketball which earned him a scholarship to Long Island University, where he also played on the football team. He enlisted in the military in Jan of 1942 and entered the pilot training program in Tuskegee, Alabama, earning his wings on 3 Nov 1943.  In February of 1944, he reported for duty at Selfridge Field as part of the 477th Bombardment Group. He was assigned as a navigator-bombardier.

Haldane King, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, recalls getting hostile looks during World War II when his plane would land at a U.S. military base.

First, he had to convince white ground personnel that he was the flight commander. Then, once his plane was refueled, he’d worry whether his reserve tank had been sabotaged. “There were times we found water in that tank,” said King, 85.

King and Gilbert Langford, 81, residents of The Villages retirement community northwest of Orlando, have received the highest honor bestowed by Congress: the Congressional Gold Medal. But they said this week that the recognition was too long in coming to a group that battled segregation in addition to the nation’s enemies.

“This would have meant a lot more to me if it had taken place 10 years after the event,” Langford said. “Now, a lot of water’s gone under the dam.”

The accolade came more than 60 years after the men trained at an all-black airfield in segregated Alabama. In the 1940s, young men at the Tuskegee Institute helped the Allies prevail against their foes.

“What they were involved with were two wars: They were fighting the war against Nazism and the war against bigotry and racism,” U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, said Friday. “They were fighting for our freedom, yet they weren’t getting theirs.”

King, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., trained at Tuskegee in 1943 and flew U.S. planes over Europe and North Africa. He said military service was laced with obstacles for black men.

“The whole idea at the time was that you weren’t qualified to be an officer of the United States Air Force,” King said. “You were a Tuskegee Airman, which didn’t mean anything to them.”

When he became an officer, King said, the title lost some of its perks because he was black.

“You couldn’t get into the officers’ club,” he said. While white officers enjoyed snacks and drinks between flights, he had to stay in his plane or take food with him.

It wasn’t until the 1950s, King said, that race relations improved in the military.

“I began to realize that I got a white co-pilot, I got a white navigator, and I was a flight commander,” he said. “They started to meld black pilots into regular activity.”

More than six decades later, the struggles still wear on the Tuskegee Airmen. Langford regrets that some died long ago, before Congress decided to honor them. King nodded as both sat on a couch inside King’s home. His wife, Brigitte, had framed the Congressional Gold Medal along with a letter from Stearns, who recently presented medals to King, Langford and other area airmen who didn’t attend a Washington ceremony in March with President Bush.

Though both think the acknowledgement of their service is late, they’re proud of their medals.

“This is something you can pick up and say you’ve earned,” King said.

After the war ended, Haldane finished his education at Long Island University, where he earned a BA in accounting. He would go onto serve in the Air Force controller’s office, for 27 years, which included working for the Pentagon.

After a 29-year military career, King served as an administrator at a port authority and a hospital.  In 1971, he was appointed executive director of Mercy-Douglass Hospital in Philadelphia.  Haldane was married and had four children. He died July 2, 2013 at age 91 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.