This article appeared in the April 2012 edition of the BPA Newsletter and is reproduced here with permission. It was originally published in the Hartford Courant.
A student at Renbrook School in West Hartford wanted to know if Connie Nappier Jr. was afraid when he was in the air. Nappier, 88, of New Britain, pondered the question.
“You were too busy to be afraid, you only allowed yourself to feel fear when you were back on the ground…”, Nappier told fourth-graders during his recent visit to the class taught by Dave Woods.
Nappier was a flight officer with the Tuskegee Airmen — African American pilots who had a major role in the Allied victory in World War II and who helped integrate the ranks of the U.S. military.
After graduating from Hartford’s Weaver High School in 1943, Nappier enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. The airmen’s triumphs have become the stuff of legend; 927 graduated from the Tuskegee program in Alabama as U.S. pilots, and they established a remarkable record.
No bomber escorted by the squadron’s fighter planes was ever shot down, the Tuskegee Airmen website notes. The airmen downed 111 German planes and hit another 150 on the ground.
Sixty-six of the airmen died in combat.
But the airmen also suffered humiliation while serving in a segregated military, and Nappier actively fought the racism he encountered. In 1945 in Indiana, Nappier and dozens of other Tuskegee Airmen were jailed because they refused to sign an affidavit agreeing to be separated from whites at the Officers Club.
When President Truman heard of the airmen’s plight, he ordered that they be set free.
In March 2007, Nappier was among 300 surviving Tuskegee Airmen who received the Congressional Gold Medal for their distinguished service.