Luke J. Weathers III is – for the record – the son of Lt. Col. Luke J. Weathers Jr., one of the famed Tuskegee Airman. He’s long been proud of his father and an event held in Downtown Memphis on Monday “means a lot to the family and to the community itself,” said Weathers.
Last year, Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-9) introduced a bill to name the Memphis Veterans Affairs Medical Center for Lieutenant Colonel Luke Weathers Jr.
“I think it’s something, looking back, if Dad were here, he would be very humble and probably overwhelmed that all this recognition’s being given to him and placed on him at this time,” said Weathers of his late father
“You got to remember when he was a Tuskegee Airman and the other airman that fought in World War II, they just wanted to serve the country. They felt that they were men just like the Caucasian soldiers were, and they had more to give than just cleaning little trains and being cooks and polishing boots.”
Luke Joseph Weathers Jr. was born December 16, 1922, in Grenada, Miss. At age five, he moved to Memphis, where he graduated from Booker T. Washington High School and later became an alumnus of Xavier University in New Orleans, La.
Upon graduating, Weathers enlisted in one of the first training programs for African-American pilots, beginning his journey as a Tuskegee Airman. He flew the plane with the celebrated “Red Tails.”
During World War II, Weathers Jr. was credited with shooting down German planes in the protection of United States Army Air Corps bombers and bringing down two Messerschmitt 109s in Italy while escorting a damaged B–24 Liberator bomber.
During his military career, Weathers rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He also received numerous honors and awards. Among them were the Distinguished Flying Cross, The Air Medal with seven clusters, and an American Theater Ribbon Victory Medal.
Following the war, Weathers returned to Memphis, receiving a hero’s welcome. On June 25, 1945, he became the first African American to receive the key to the City of Memphis, which declared the day “Luke Weathers Jr. Day.”
In 1965, after transferring from his Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) position in Anchorage, Alaska, Weathers became the first African American Air Traffic Controller in Memphis. He later held positions with the FAA in Atlanta, Georgia, and in the District of Columbia, where he eventually retired in 1985 after serving as a reservist in the military for 23 years.
“So, the opportunity came that Tuskegee was started, and I call it the Tuskegee Project because in actuality some people try to say it’s a Tuskegee experiment. That’s a different thing, but that’s a different discussion altogether,” said Weathers, who shared a story detailing that his father once faced having “washed out
“According to Weathers, his father was told before his last training with an instructor that he was one pink slip away from being kicked out.
“So they took off and the instructor yelled out, maneuvered for forced landing. (His father) picked out the field and he was going to land in. He started his maneuver and the instructor told him that “you can’t make it.”
Weathers said his father knew that he had two other pink slips….
“So they (Weathers and his instructor) were fighting over the stick. Dad felt like he could make it …. if he was going to wash out, he was going to wash out on his terms. … The instructor finally yelled out, ‘you can make it. You can make it.’ And then they took on off. So that got him into the program.”
Weathers said growing up as a young man and learning history, “we don’t find this in the history books in the United States. You got to remember that the country denied that the Tuskegee Airman even existed.
“It wasn’t until the NAACP filed a lawsuit against the government before the program was set up. Now, once the Tuskegee Airman program was successful, you have to remember this too, World War II lasted from 1941 to 1945. The Tuskegee Airman didn’t become involved in World War II until 1944, which means the first three years the United States actually was losing the war because they had no successful bombing missions over Germany.
Weathers said the war turned around after the Tuskegee Airmen began escorting bombers.
“And, in actuality, they have amassed a military record that has not been mastered or surpassed to this day because of their involvement in World War II, Weathers said.
“The military looked at this and said, ‘we can’t have two services. So, they integrated the military. To me, the Tuskegee Airmen were the forefathers of the Civil Rights movement because they did this first before Rosa Parks. They did this first before Martin Luther King.
In 2007, Weathers and the Tuskegee Airmen were honored with the highest civilian recognition awarded by the U.S. Congress, the Congressional Gold Medal. The medal recognized their unique military record that inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces.
On October 15, 2011, Weathers died in Tucson, Arizona, at the age of 90, leaving behind his wife, two sons and daughters, 12 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren, as well as a legacy of countless lives he touched.
On January 20, 2012, he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.