Tuskegee airman leaves legacy of service

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Fitzroy “Buck” Newsum often reflected on the irony that, as a black man, he wasn't permitted to fly airplanes, but as a commissioned officer in the Air Force, he was in charge of shooting them down.

“I thought it was rather interesting,” he told a crowd gathered at the Denver Athletic Club in 2001.

Newsum died earlier this month in Centennial.

Born May 22, 1918, in the upper west side of Manhattan, Newsum's love of flying came when he saw his first plane in 1929, a Curtiss Robin, land in the savanna near his Trinidad boyhood home.

As he watched the high-winged monoplane take off and land, he said his mother asked him, in exasperation, “Why do you keep staring at that thing?”

Newsum said he looked over his shoulder at her, and in a quiet voice said, “I think that's what I'd like to do.”

Denied entry into the U.S. Army Air Corps, because of the color of his skin, Newsum enlisted in New York National Guard in 1939.

Two years later, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Anti-Aircraft Coast Artillery Corps, and after the attack on Pearl Harbor, was assigned to duty in Hawaii.

While in the Pacific, Newsum was notified he had been accepted into an “experimental” training program for black pilots at a segregated airbase in Alabama tasked with proving “men of color had the intelligence to fly airplanes.”

More than 900 black military pilots trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field during World War II. They were then assigned to segregated Army Air Forces units. Of those 900, 450 served overseas in either the 99th Pursuit Squadron or the 332nd Fighter Group.

Newsum graduated as a multi-engine pilot in December 1943 and was assigned to the 477th Bombardment Group, the first all-black multi-engine group in the Army Air Forces.

Newsum's distinguished career in the military spanned more than 30 years, three wars and a myriad of cultural changes, but despite the adversity and challenges, he remained grateful for the opportunity to have served.

He was awarded three Air Medals, two Air Force Commendation Medals and the Meritorious Service Award.

After retiring from the Air Force, Newsum worked as a public relations manager at Martin Marietta in Denver.

He was a founding member of the local Hubert L. “Hooks” Jones chapter of the national Tuskegee Airmen. In 1989, he received the Noel F. Parish Award for outstanding achievement on behalf of Tuskegee Airmen Inc.

In 1991, he was inducted into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame.

Along with other surviving Tuskegee Airmen, Newsum was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in Washington in 2007.

Newsum died Jan. 5 at a nursing facility in Centennial. He was 94.

He was buried with full military honors Jan. 14 at Fort Logan National Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be sent to the Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship Foundation, P.O. Box 83395, Los Angeles, CA 90045.

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