Jefferson was hailed as a ”true hero” by contemporaries and Detroit leaders.
Alexander Jefferson, a revered former colonel for the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first all-Black squadron of military pilots, has died at 100.
Jefferson, a Detroit native, joined the fleet in 1944 after graduating from pilot training at Tuskegee Army Air Field, the Detroit Free Press reported.
The Tuskegee Airmen completed more than 1,500 missions and broke barriers before the desegregation of the entire U.S. military. Jefferson was the last surviving founder of the Tuskeege Airmen’s Detroit chapter.
Tuskegee Airmen Lt. Col. Harry Stewart, Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson and others pose for photos near the Port Huron monument honoring the Tuskegee Airmen on Aug. 28, 2021. Bryce Airgood / USA TODAY NETWORK
While serving in World War II as a fighter pilot with the “Red Tails,” Jefferson’s plane was shot down by Polish military forces. He was held in Poland for eight months between 1944 to 1945, per the Free Press.
Two years later in 1947, Jefferson was honorably discharged, later retiring from the reserves in 1969.
Ranked lieutenant colonel at the time of his retirement, Jefferson’s decorated career included honors such as the Purple Heart award, the Congressional Gold Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal and a permanent spot in the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame, according to the Free Press.
Following his retirement, Jefferson returned to Detroit and gave back to the community that raised him, becoming a public school teacher, assistant principal and member of multiple community organizations, the outlet reported.
The Tuskegee Airmen now have 60 chapters nationwide which educate youth in aviation and aerospace, the outlet reported.
Kenneth Thomas, president of the Tuskegee Airmen’s Detroit Chapter, called Jefferson a “true hero.”
“Everything he did was giving back to the community,” Thomas told the Free Press, explaining that when he returned to Detroit, he fought another war — one of racism and segregation.
“He fought that with all he could and giving back to the youth through his teaching with the Public School System, as well as motivating youth into the world of aviation and aerospace,” he said.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan lauded Jefferson as an important figure whose contributions made the world a better place and positively impacted countless young lives in the city.
“Col. Jefferson not only represented the best of Detroit and our nation, he represented the very best of humanity,” Duggan told the Free Press.
“As a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, he helped to win the war, and despite spending eight months as a prisoner of war, he emerged with his same kindness and generosity of spirit,” he added.
A plaza bearing Jefferson’s name is set to open in Detroit next year, Duggan said.
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