A legend visits the Maryland Air National Guard

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. David Speicher
  • 175th Wing
The Maryland Air National Guard welcomed Tuskegee Airman Dr. Cyril O. Byron, Sr. to Warfield Air National Guard Base Saturday, August 11, 2012. Dr. Byron visited the Wing to participate with the promotion ceremony for long time friend, Senior Master Sgt. Ed Bard, 175th Wing Public Affairs superintendent.

Dr. Byron was drafted after his second year at Morgan State University in 1942. After receiving his draft notice via special delivery message, he went home to the Bronx, then basic training at Camp Upton, N.Y. and then south to Tuskegee, Alabama. Originally he was an armorer on the P-51 Mustangs but due to discovering his typing skills he went to work in the headquarters element.

On base the men were respected, but he recalled a different attitude in the south outside the fence. "You didn't feel it. You knew the difference."

"You were restricted to go to town unless there were at least two people. We had to move into the gutter from the sidewalk if a white couple was walking down the street. Most of us came from the north; we had trouble dealing with that."

They left for overseas on his birthday in April 1943. During the eight day cruise, he was sea sick for six days.

They got off the ship in Casablanca and supported a British group pushing the German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel out of North Africa. They then went to Sicily and joined the Eighth Air Force for the invasion of Italy.

At the time, the U.S. was losing 20 to 25 percent of their bombers on a mission because fighter planes with white pilots would chase German fighter planes and leave bombers vulnerable.

However, the Tuskegee Airmen would not leave the bomber unprotected. While escorting bombers they never lost one bomber to enemy planes, although they did lose some to enemy anti-aircraft fire.

Dr. Byron recalled, "many Italians were wondering why we were over there fighting to defend freedom when we didn't have this freedom at home. We told them maybe it will change, maybe it will get better, but we didn't have much hope. But we had to tell them something."

After the war, Dr. Byron served for three years before being honorably discharged as an Administrative Sergeant Major. He went on to finish his degree at Morgan State University. He also earned his master's degree from New York University and a doctorate from Temple University. "I used all my G.I. Bill," said Dr. Byron. He taught at Coppin State University and Baltimore City Community College for more than 20 years.

Over the years he has been invited to the White House twice. Once to receive the Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush and again this year for a private screening of Red Tails, a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, with President Barack Obama, the first lady and several cast members.

Dr. Byron addressed the Wing Headquarter staff, "I am 92 and happy to be here." Lt. Col David Deborger, 175th Wing Chief of Safety, responded, "If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here." Deborger's father flew B-24s in Italy which were escorted by Dr. Byron's unit.

Dr. Byron spent the morning touring the base and sharing his stories with Airmen.