Two members of the Tuskegee Airmen—the famed all-black squadron that flew in World War II—died on the same day. The men, lifelong friends who enlisted together, were both 91. Clarence E. Huntley Jr. and Joseph Shambrey died on Jan. 5 in their Los Angeles homes, relatives said yesterday. Huntley and Shambrey enlisted in 1942 and were shipped to Italy in 1944 with the 100th Fighter Squadron of the Army Air Forces' 332nd Fighter Group. As mechanics, they kept the combat planes flying. Crew chief Huntley was responsible for the plane of the squadron commander, Capt. Andrew D. Turner, says Huntley's nephew. "The life of his pilot was in his hands, and he took that very seriously," his nephew says, adding that his concern led Turner to nickname him "Mother."
In addition to facing danger, the Tuskegee Airmen faced racism. Shambrey's son says his father recalled getting off a train in Alabama where a hospitality station was welcoming returning white troops with handshakes and free coffee. "When he and his buddies came off, dressed in their uniforms, of course they didn't get any congratulations" and were asked to pay for their coffee, the younger Shambrey says. They did so. "The thing about those men is that they were very proud" and decided not to make a fuss, he adds: "They were already used to so much discrimination." Huntley told his family: "I was doing what I was supposed to do, and that was to serve my country," his daughter says. (Read more Tuskegee Airmen stories.)