Bill Holloman, a Tuskegee Airman, didn't stop serving his country when his active duty as one of the United States' first African-American combat pilots ended after World War II.
He was called back to service in the Korean War and became the Air Force's first black helicopter pilot. He went to war again in Vietnam.
During the nearly four decades after he retired from the Army, he served his country in a different way: by teaching younger generations how war and aviation intersected in a way that helped end centuries of racial separation.
Lt. Col. William H. Holloman III, a Kent resident, died at a hospital Friday after a heart attack. He was 85.
A St. Louis native who as a teenager was so crazy about flying he would walk two miles to an airport to watch the planes, he volunteered for an all-black aviation-training program at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama.
Because some Army generals were dubious about the ability of African Americans to maintain and fly aircraft, the Tuskegee Airmen were required to undergo twice as much training as their white counterparts.
One of 450 trainees sent to North Africa and Italy, Lt. Col. Holloman flew a single-seat P-51 Mustang fighter-bomber from a base in Italy to targets in Germany, Austria and Eastern European countries. He flew 19 combat missions, including escorting bombers and hitting enemy targets.
Stationed at bases segregated by race, the black fighter pilots and the white bomber crews mingled in towns where whites insisted on buying drinks for their fighter escorts. When Lt. Col. Holloman sailed back to the States, he walked down a gangplank in New York and saw signs that read, "Whites to the right, coloreds to the left."
The war at home
"I always say we were fighting two wars: the war against Hitler and the race war at home. Both were to preserve democracy," Lt. Col. Holloman told Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat in 2008.
Although racial segregation continued in much of the country for another two decades, the Tuskegee Airmen showed white aviators and their commanders that they, too, were first-class warriors.
President Truman issued an executive order in 1948 integrating all branches of the armed forces. President Obama invited the Tuskegee Airmen to his inauguration last year.
After World War II, Lt. Col. Holloman did stints dusting crops in South America and flying small commercial planes in Canada. An Air Force reservist, he was called back to active duty during the Korean War and in Vietnam, where he switched to the Army. He retired in 1972.
A founding member and first president of the Sam Bruce Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., Lt. Col. Holloman took the Tuskegee story to virtually anyone who would listen.
"Just by talking to him you were touching a primary point of history," said Greg Anders, commander of Cascade Warbirds, a vintage-aircraft organization Lt. Col. Holloman was active in.
Lt. Col. Holloman annually hosted panels at the Museum of Flight, spoke to young people about history and aviation, and traveled the country sharing his story. His calendar was booked for the next two years with speeches, aircraft fly-ins and other events, daughter Lesley Holloman said. "He never slowed down. ... He loved that people wanted to hear what he had to say about history," she said.
Flight jacket in museum
Lt. Col. Holloman's World War II flight jacket is on display at the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle. He attended the museum's opening in 2008, standing by the jacket and telling the Tuskegee Airmen story to the 3,000 visitors, said the museum's executive director, Barbara Earl Thomas.
His presence left Thomas and others in tears, she said. "When people realized that he was actually the person that belonged to the jacket, they were like, 'Oh, my god, you're kidding!' ... That was the moment when people made the connection. That made us feel like we were a living museum."
He is survived by his wife, Artie Adele Holloman, of Kent; sons William IV and Michael Holloman, both of Seattle, and Christopher, of Bellevue; daughters Lesley Holloman, of St. Louis, Robyn Holloman, of Seattle and Maria Holloman-Toye, of Rochester, Thurston County; and five grandchildren.
Viewing will be at Marlatt Funeral Home in Kent from 1 to 2 p.m. Friday, with a flyover of vintage military aircraft at 1:45 p.m. and a memorial service at 2 p.m. A service will be held Monday in St. Louis.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or email@example.com