|Trinity Standard - Local News
Stories Added - June 2009
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WWII vets honored at Juneteenth celebration
Trinity Standard - June 2009
TRINITY – A number of Black veterans of World War II will be honored during the Juneteenth celebration planned Saturday, June 20, in Trinity.
The event will begin at 8:30 a.m. with a parade from the Lone State Baptist Church to the Trinity Intermediate School.
The Juneteenth celebration will get underway about noon in the intermediate school auditorium.
Juneteenth, which is also known as Emancipation Day, commemorates June 19, 1865, when the abolition of slavery was announced in Texas. Although President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862, it had no immediate effect until Confederate forces were defeated.
On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 troops arrived in Galveston following the end of the Civil War and issued General Order No. 3 formally abolishing slavery in Texas.
Since that time, June 19th has become recognized as the official end of slavery in the United States and 31 states, including Texas, now have annual Juneteenth holiday observances.
Among the veterans to be recognized during this year’s local event are James “Skull” Williams, a former sergeant with the U.S. Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force; Valrie Davis, formerly of the U.S. Navy; Leon Evans, formerly of the U.S. Army; Jimmie D. Saldana, a former sergeant with the U.S. Army’s 679th Ordinance Ammunition Company.
Williams was drafted by the Army in March 1944 and served in the air corps until the end of World War II in 1945. In 1946 he re-enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served for three more years.
He was initially stationed at Luke Field, Ariz., where he received training in weapons, truck driving and auto mechanics. He then served for a time at Shepherd Field in Texas as an auto mechanic before serving two years in the Pacific, including tours in Japan and Guam.
After completing his Pacific tour, he was assigned to the U.S. Air Force’s 3/32nd fight wing at Columbus, Ohio. There he served under Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the son of the first African-American Army general, Benjamin O. Davis Sr.
A graduate of West Point, Davis Jr. had initially sought assignment to the air corps but was denied because the Army did not allow African-Americans to serve as pilots.
When that policy changed in 1941, then Capt. Davis was assigned to establish a flight program at Tuskegee, Ala. As a lieutenant colonel, Davis took command of the 99th Pursuit Squadron – also known as the Black Eagles – which become the first Black air combat unit in U.S. history.
The pilots were trained at Tuskegee Field and today are known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
During the war, the African-American pilots fought in North Africa and Europe, flying over 15,000 sorties and destroyed over 1,000 German aircraft.
Although Williams did not serve with the Tuskegee Airmen during the War, he was assigned to the unit after it returned to the United States.