Leslie Edwards, a member of the history-making, segregation-defying Tuskegee Airmen, died Monday afternoon at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center. He was 95 years old.
Edwards arrived in the Air Force as a World War II draftee, missing his wife and mourning his plan to start a family. He told WCPO in February, he and other black servicemen occupied an uncomfortable in-between position — welcome to fight and die for their country, but not to live in it as equal citizens.
“Being African-American, the military had made it known that you was not supposed to be respected as a military person although you would be a part of the military effort,” he said then.
Speaking to WCPO, Edwards recalled the Freeman Field mutiny of 1945 as the event that finally turned the tide. He was working as an aircraft mechanic supervisor at Freeman Army Airfield in Indiana when it happened.
“Freeman Field had an officer’s club,” he said. “It was (a) beautiful officer’s club, but they made it clear that our pilots and our officers could not go into that officer’s club. Our officers, black officers, started going in, and they started arresting them.
“They arrested, like, 19 at one time. And then another group of officers, like, 25 go in, and they arrest them.”
He dedicated his later life to advocacy and the preservation of the Tuskegee Airmen’s history.
According to Edwards’ family, his health had deteriorated quickly after he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.