A legendary airman and World War II veteran who upheld his oath by fighting enemies both foreign and domestic recently passed away after weeks in hospice care.
Bill Johnson, Dabney Montgomery, Julius Freeman and Richard Braithwaite at the Great Hall. (Photo by Michael DiVito)
Dabney Montgomery was one of the original Tuskegee Airmen and later a bodyguard for civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. He was with Dr. King from his hometown of Selma, Alabama on the famous March to Montgomery.
He was born in Selma in 1923 and was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1943. He served as an aircraft mechanic in Southern Italy during the war.
The Tuskegee Airmen was a group of African-American servicemen in the WWII-era Army Air Corps, officially known as the 332d Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group. While the nickname commonly refers to the pilots, everyone in the units are considered original Tuskegee Airmen – including cooks, mechanics, instructors, nurses, and other support personnel.
Tuskegee Airmen in 1945 (Library of Congress)
During WWII, the U.S. military was still racially segregated and remained so until 1948. The Tuskegee Airmen faced discrimination both in the Army and as civilians afterwards. All black military pilots who trained in the United States trained at Moton Field, the Tuskegee Army Airfield, and were educated at Tuskegee University.
"When I saw guys who looked like me flying airplanes, I was filled with hope that segregation would soon end," he told the Wall Street Journal in 2015.
After the war, Montgomery tried to live the south but found the racial discrimination to be too much. He moved to New York for a time until he found he was needed elsewhere. He joined the Civil Rights Movement after seeing marchers gassed and beaten on the Pettus Bridge in Selma. He joined the protests in his hometown and protected Dr. King during the march.
The heels of Montgomery's shoes and the tie he wore on the famous Selma to Montgomery March will be in the permanent collection at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. when it opens on September 24.
The Congressional Gold Medal for the Tuskegee Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo)
President George W. Bush all of the Tuskegee Airmen with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007.