JERSEY CITY, NJ January 30, 2012 – The Jersey City Free Public Library proudly announces the presentation of one of our country’s true heroes – Tuskegee Airman Lt. Calvin J. Spann – who will be one of the featured speakers at the 10th Annual Black History Month program of the Miller Branch Library, 489 Bergen Avenue in Jersey City, on Wednesday, February 29, at 5:30 p.m. SHARP!
This special guest speaks because of the generosity of state, county, city official, library and foundation trustees, employees and friends, all of whom have contributed toward Lt. Spann’s speaking fee, because there has been no program money over the last 3.5 years due to the severe cuts to the library’s budget. All donors who made this program possible will be formally thanked the evening of the Black History Month program.
A precocious and smart young man, Calvin Spann was a Golden Gloves boxing champion at age 16 and left to join the war effort during his senior high school year. He passed a two-year college equivalency test, and at age 17, was called to serve in the Army Air Corps, one month before he would have graduated.
This “Red Tail” fighter, named after the tail of the P51 Mustangs flown by the Tuskegee Airmen, hails from Rutherford, NJ, and lived in Englewood only until one year ago when he moved to Allex, TX.
Enduring his father’s death while in high school and being the oldest male in his family, Lt. Spann was not told by his mother that his home had burned down since he was recently stationed in Italy. She did not want to jeopardize her son’s military service, because the Red Cross would have sent him home.
Lt. Calvin J. Spann volunteered for the Army Air Corps and was sent to Tuskegee, AL to start aviation cadet training in 1943. After training completion, Lieutenant Spann was sent to Italy as a replacement combat pilot and given an instruction manual to fly the P51 Mustang fighter plane. His assignment was with the 100th Fighter Squadron, part of the 332nd Fighter Group. Lt. Spann flew 26 combat missions in Europe before the end of World War II, and leaving Italy, was honorably discharged in the United States in 1946. He remained in the Air Force Reserves until 1961, though did not formally retire.
Lt. Spann opted to leave the reserves because of the limited scheduling opportunities allowed for African Americans to fly. “I was trying to go to school at nights and work during the day. I couldn’t spend the weekends trying to get a plane and not even get one. They didn’t allocate enough planes for people to get their time in. And pilots have to fly at least four hours a month to qualify for flying pay. Not getting a chance to fly, I decided to get my discharge.”
Furthermore, Spann eventually worked in pharmaceutical sales, taking that job after his applications to fly commercial planes after the war were grounded. Only after a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling to force the major commercial airlines to hire African Americans as pilots, which happened too late for Lt. Spann’s pilot career, did desegregation in commercial aviation occur.
Previously, on July 29, 1948, through the efforts of U.S. President Harry S. Truman, the U.S. military formally desegregated, and it was the Tuskegee Airmen, a segregated military unit, that opened the skies for all others to fly.
Lt. Calvin J. Spann distinguished himself while serving in the Army Air Corps, 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group, receiving many military awards, among them the Air Medal with one oak leaf cluster, a Presidential Unit Citation, and the Mediterranean Theatre of Operation ribbon. In addition, this Tuskegee Airman earned the American Theatre and World War II Victory button.
Lt. Spann has received many other prestigious honors, including being inducted into the New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame, and being invited to The White House by President Barack Obama, along with other Tuskegee Airmen and their families, for a Veterans’ Day event. In 2006, Tuskegee University awarded Calvin a Doctor of Public Service degree.
When describing his flying missions, which were escorting bombers and doing reconnaissance work, Lt. Spann has joked, “That first ride is a thrill, even for a young crazy guy.” Believe it or not, he didn’t think his missions were scary. “We were trained to feel that if something was going to happen, it would be to the other guy, not you. Prayer has always been in the forefront of what I’ve tried to do.”
Yes, truly… On a wing, and a prayer…
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated, working in conjunction with the Miller Branch to produce the 10th annual Black History Month program, will present Stomp Exhibitions and a special award to Chief Darren E. Rivers, Jersey City Fire Department. Live performances of song, music and dance, as well as a skit by Playtime Productions, round out the program, to be held on Wednesday, February 29, 5:30 p.m. SHARP!
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