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Leslie Edwards Jr. was WW II Tuskegee Airman

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By Jacqueline Covington, a Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Red Tail Squadron volunteer, and Diane Hamm. Both are members of the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc.  

 “Our ‘excellence’ is proof that those who believed in Black inferiority were fools.” ~ Leslie Edwards Jr. 

Leslie Edwards Jr. Photo provided

When you first met Leslie Edwards, an original Tuskegee Airman, you noticed his gentle smile and piercing eyes. One would never know his important role in writing the history of WWII, or rather his re-writing of history. 

Sgt/Flight Chief Leslie Edwards Jr., a resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, celebrated his 95th birthday onvAugust 9th, and he was still devoting his retirement days to speaking at schools, civic clubs and churches about the role of Tuskegee Airmen during WWII. 

Mr. Edwards died Monday, September 23, 2019.  

He was the oldest living Tuskegee Airman in the Greater Cincinnati area.

He is survived by daughters Diana Henry (Joseph), Imogene Bowers (Leroy Jr.) Luqman Abdu Rahman (Khadijah) and Jacqueline Parrott.

Funeral service is Friday, October 4, at 11 a.m. at First Unitarian Church, 536 Linton St. Visitation from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at First Unitarian Church. Wake is Thursday, October 3, from 4 to 8 p.m., at J.C. Battle & Sons Funeral Home. Burial is at Vine Street Hill Cemetery in Cincinnati with full military honors. Special online condolences for family and friends may be expressed at http://www.jcbattleandsonsfuneralhome.com. 

A Documented Original Tuskegee Airman, Staff Sgt / Flight Chief Leslie Edwards Jr. was born August 9, 1924, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was the youngest of three children. His father worked as a bellhop and his mother looked after the children. The family moved from Memphis to Cincinnati in 1925.  

Before dropping out of high school in 1938, he attended Harriet Beecher Stowe School in Cincinnati. He worked at several jobs before settling at Khan’s Packinghouse in 1941. He married Anne Mae Green in 1943. He was drafted into the Army Air Corp in 1943. His basic training was at Shepperd Field, Texas. After basic, he was trained as an aircraft engine mechanic for medium bombers. Following training, he was assigned to Selfridge Field outside Detroit, Michigan. There he worked on bombers belonging to the 477th Bombardment Group Medium.  

There were four Tuskegee Airmen Bomber Squadrons during World War I. In 1944, Mr. Edwards, Jr. was reassigned to Godman Field, outside Louisville, Kentucky. There, he was promoted to flight chief of Flight A of the 617th Bomb Squadron responsible for maintaining the five B-25 bombers assigned to the Squadron. In 1945, he was reassigned to Freeman Field in Seymour, Indiana. Also, in 1945, the 477th was ordered back to Godman Field. The returning Tuskegee Airmen Fighter Squadrons and Group were combined with the bomber squadrons and group to become the 477th Composite Group. Its headquarters was now located at Godman Field, Kentucky 

Mr. Edwards was discharged in 1945. The 477th Composite Group never deployed overseas for combat duties partly, because it was activated late in the war; partly, and partly, because it was transferred from base to base because of racial trouble.  

While the bombers units did not participate in combat overseas, members of the unit were part of an event known as, the “Freeman Field Mutiny.” When in April of 1945, Black officers attempted to enter a segregated officers’ club. A total of 120 Black officers of the 477th Bombardment Group were arrested at one time or another during the “Freeman Field Mutiny.” Segregated facilities were contrary to existing Army Air Corp Regulations. It has been said, that this act of civil disobedience was instrumental in President Truman issuing Executive Order 9981 in July of 1948, which directed the desegregation of the United States Military. 

Mr. Edwards received the Citizen Awareness of Law Award and the Better Housing League Award. On 29 March 2007, he attended a ceremony in the U .S. Capitol Rotunda; where, he and the other Tuskegee Airmen collectively were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of their service during WWII.  

After WWII, both Mr. Edwards his wifeAnna Mae, completed high school. In 1961, he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce from Solomon P. Chase College in Cincinnati. He was initially denied the opportunity to return to his previous position at Khan’s Packinghouse. However, the union supported him and his position was restored. In 1964, he advanced to become a federal meat inspector in Cincinnati, and he served as the supervisor of meat inspectors for the Southwest Area of Ohio from 1970 to 1986. Following his retirement in 1997, he became the full-time caregiver for his wife, who died in November of 2016. They were married for 72 years.

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