Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Air Forces Veteran and Tuskegee Airman Wilfred DeFour.
Wilfred was born in Colon, Panama and immigrated to United States with his parents who were from Trinidad. His father moved the family to Harlem, where he relocated his tailor shop.
After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School, Wilfred attended City University of New York. His studies were interrupted after he was drafted into the Army Air Forces in 1942.
Since the military was racially segregated, he completed basic training at the Tuskegee Army Air Field, located on the campus of Tuskegee Institute, a historically black college.
The Tuskegee Airmen was the first group of African Americans servicemen who were trained to fly and maintain aircraft during World War II. Wilfred belonged to this squadron of 15,000 that included pilots, bombardiers, technicians, and other support personnel.
Wilfred was assigned to the 366th Air Service Squadron, 96th Air Service Group. In 1943, he completed Army administration training at Atlanta University and was promoted to staff sergeant. While on military furlough, Wilfred married Ruth Christian, his wife of 61 years. They would eventually have two children, Wilfred, Jr. and Darlene.
In 1944, he was transferred to Italy. As an aircraft technician, he provided field emergency service to the aircraft of the 332nd Field Group at Ramitelli Airfield. Wilfred was instrumental in the decision to paint the aircraft’s tails red, whereby the Tuskegee Airmen would later get the nickname “Red Tails.”
After being discharged from the service, Wilfred completed his college studies by earning an associate and bachelor’s degrees in real estate and business administration, respectively.
He opened a real estate company, worked at the Veterans Administration and later, the United States Postal Service, where he was employed for 33 years. He retired as Superintendent of Special Delivery and Parcel Post in 1982.
On November 19, 2018, the federal government honored the Tuskegee Airmen by renaming a Manhattan post office to the Tuskegee Airmen Post Office Building. Wilfred, a former postal manager at that same facility, attended the ceremony.
“We didn’t know we were making history at the time. We were just doing our job,” said Wilfred.
On December 8, 2018, Wilfred passed away at his home in Harlem. He was 100 years old.
We honor his service.
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Graphic by Tenzin Chomphel. Tenzin is an undergraduate junior at the University of California, San Diego, studying International Politics