DONALDSONVILLE — Janice Linton was visibly emotional as she listened to Tuskegee Airman Calvin Moret talk to her grandson.
Linton’s grandson, Vincent Mills, 9, wanted to know if Moret was afraid during his time as a World War II pilot with the all-African-American Tuskegee squadron.
“Mentally, no because I wanted to fly since I was nine years old and studied aviation to prepare myself,” Moret said.
Moret, of New Orleans, was the guest of honor Saturday at the River Road African American Museum’s “Honoring Veterans Past and Present” ceremony.
After a speech before a crowd gathered at the museum, Moret shook hands, posed for photographs and talked to anyone who would listen about the importance of “knowing our history.”
Moret was one of roughly 1,000 black pilots trained at a segregated air base in Tuskegee, Ala., between 1941 and 1946.
While he never saw combat, because “I missed going overseas by four days,” he did experience the difficulties and racism seen by those who wanted to be the first black pilots to fly in the segregated U.S. armed forces.
Moret chatted with visitors as the movie “Red Tails,” which tells the story of the Tuskegee airmen, played on an outdoor screen in front of the museum.
Moret said he never turns down an invitation to talk to crowds about the role the Tuskegee airmen played in the war and how “times have changes over the years.”
The Tuskegee airmen played an important role in “the African American war for ‘double victory’ — victory over the Axis powers and victory over racism at home,” according to the World War II Museum Web site. In 1941 fewer than 4,000 black soldiers were serving in the military, the website states. By 1945, more than 1.2 million black Americans would be serving in uniform on the Home Front, in Europe and the Pacific. The United States Armed Forces were officially desegregated in 1948.
Moret trained at the Tuskegee Institute in 1943 and 1944, joining the military at 18, and was commissioned as a flight officer in November 1944.
In 2007, he received the Congressional Gold Medal.
After the war, Moret spent his life in the printing business. Today, he said, he enjoys sharing his experiences with young people.
Despite his failing eyesight, Moret said he tries to read as much as he can and doesn’t have cable television “because it distracts from my reading.”
Moret stressed the importance of young people recording the oral history of “those older Americans who have seen things and lived things.”
Moret said that as a child, he lived next door to a Spanish American War veteran.
“I sat with him and learned so much about history and him,” Moret said. However, he said he was negligent when it came to quizzing his grandmother about her life.
“Different generations are looking at things differently today,” he said. “We’re really a young nation.”
Moret said he was excited to be able to live long enough to see a black man elected president.
He pointed to the struggles many black citizens had “just to register to vote in this country.”
“I knew men who died trying to register to vote,” Moret said.
Museum Executive Director Kathe Hambrick Jackson said Moret provided those visiting the museum can learn “so much from someone like Mr. Moret, and we’re glad to have him in Donaldsonville today.”
The program also honored other veterans and local military members.