BY SAM FIELDS
Too many people take important stories to the grave without sharing them with family and friends.
My father was in the NYPD. And while he told me a lot of funny cop stories it was only because my grandmother had kept the front page of a 1946 edition of the Long Island Press that I learned that, while off duty at the movies with my mother, he happened on a robbery/homicide that led to a car chase though the streets of Queens and him shooting it out and capturing the bad guys.
I’m lucky that my Dad was still alive when I learned about his heroism so that we could talk about.
Unfortunately, Broward Judge John “Jay” Hurley Jr. did not find out about the incredible thing the senior John Hurley had done and what it meant to other veterans until after his Pop died.
You probably have seen Judge Hurley. That’s because he is on TV almost daily as the judge those arrested first appear before.
Jay Hurley, on left, is frequently on TV.
What Judge Hurley did know was that his Dad was in the Army Air Corp where he flew bombers over Germany. When he went back to the U.S., he trained other pilots. After the war he spent a career flying for Delta.
All that and more were recounted at a memorial service.
Jay and his siblings spoke about Pop.
But a big surprise came when an elderly Black gentleman got up and asked to speak.
His name was Thaddeus Hamilton, a retired lieutenant colonel, and here is the story he told:
During the war he had been a Redtail also known as a Tuskegee Airman.
He was carrying a framed photo of the Tuskegee airmen, signed by the remaining members.
The WWII military was as Jim Crow as a Mississippi public school. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Redtails were trained in Alabama and forced to endure all the indignities of racial segregation on-and-off the base.
Like the Southern so-called “Colored Schools” that got used books and supplies, the Redtails got secondhand equipment including planes.
How’s this for the ultimate insult?
During the war Alabama was the home to 16,000 German POW’s. Many were trustees who earned a few bucks doing odd jobs.
The Germans were permitted to go into town where they were welcomed in restaurants and movie houses. Meanwhile, African-American soldiers, who were fighting and dying fighting these same German soldiers, couldn’t go in those same restaurants and movie houses.
White Air Corps pilots saw themselves as the cream of the military crop. For many, the idea that blacks could or would do their job was both insulting and downright threatening.
It was in that atmosphere that White flight instructors stayed clear of training “Negro” pilots.
The exception was Captain John Hurley, the judge’s father. He was the lead pilot trainer for the Tuskegee airmen.
Hurley had been a bomber pilot who, unscathed, had dodged Nazi flak in dozens of missions over Germany.
Make no bones about it, working with the Redtails meant a different kind of flak that now came from White American fly boys. In many respects it had to be more difficult than bombing Hamburg since it was a choice that ran counter to the “groupthink” of the 1940’s military.
Colonel Hamilton, and the few remaining Redtails, never forgot.
Hamilton’s heartfelt thanks to his former trainer, Hurley, astounded the judge. Jay Hurley never knew how much impact his Pop had on those airmen. He never knew how his Dad had affected lives and was touched by history.
It’s a shame that Judge Hurley only first heard about at his Dad’s memorial service. It’s the kind of a story that brings a smile to your face and tears to your eyes. His great regret is that he never had a chance to share the story with “Pop”.
John Hurley’s obit from Georgia:
John James (J.J.) Hurley
Valdosta Daily Times (GA) –
— John James (J.J.) Hurley, 96, of Valdosta and formerly of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida died suddenly at his home on Friday, October 26, 2012. He was born in Washington D.C. on January 18, 1916 to the late John and Winifred Hurley. J.J was an aviation pioneer. He was a veteran of WWII and served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps and was the last surviving member of the 41B Squadron. Through his leadership and the collective training of other pilots, he was instrumental in the success and accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen having been the lead pilot trainer for the historic group. He also trained the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during this time. He was discharged as a Lt. Colonel when the war ended and went to work as a pilot with Delta Airlines. He flew for Delta for thirty years until he retired. He was the airline’s oldest living original captains. Following his tenure with Delta he became the director for Mackey Airlines. He loved golfing, fishing and boating. He was a member of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ft. Lauderdale.