Celebrating Black History Month

Walter Jones, United States Air Force, Vietnam

2014-02-22_14-55-18The first recognition of “Black History Month” dates back to 1926, but it was not until the 20th century that their presence in our history books was recognized. The credit for this movement belongs to Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Woodson, born to two former slaves, spent his childhood working in the Kentucky coal mines; he enrolled in high school at the age of twenty and went on to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He wanted to recognize the contributions of black people in American history, so in February 1926 he launched “Negro History Week,” he chose February because it was the birth month of Fredrick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, two men who had a great impact on the black American population. Getting the U.S. military on board took a little bit longer.

Although black Americans have had actively participated in every major U.S. conflict, it wasn’t until an executive order by President Harry S. Truman in 1948, that the U.S. military became integrated. Two of the most notable groups who paved the way were the Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen. After the Civil War, Congress authorized the formation of six black regiments, two of these were the Ninth and Tenth Cavalries, which were stationed in the Great Plains and were responsible for building forts and maintaining order. They were called Buffalo Soldiers by the Cheyenne Indians, not only for the color of their skin but also for their abilities in battle. Although still resisting integration, in 1941, the first all-black military aviation program was formed at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. By 1943 the first of “The Tuskegee Airmen” were sent to North Africa to join the Allied Forces where they fought along with the all-white 79th Fighter Group. Their success in these missions paved the way for integration into the Army Air Forces, which later became the U.S. Air Force.


Walter Jordon Jones was born on April 1st, 1942 in Athens, AL and grew up over on Big Creek in West Limestone. He was summoned by the draft in 1964 and chose to join the U.S. Air Force. His first assignment took him to Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina where he was assigned as an Air Freight Specialist. In 1965, he was sent to Vietnam where he was assigned to Tan Son Nhut. As the headquarters for the South Vietnamese Air Force, Tan Son Nhut was one of the busiest military airbases in the world, and it was from here that the last Airman left South Vietnam in March, 1973. One of Walters’s most memorable duties was being assigned to a team which was responsible for staging and loading soldiers remains for the trip back to the United States, Walter remembers it as “very emotional duty.”
After leaving the military, Walter spent thirteen years as a police officer in San Bernardino, CA. He ended up living there for 38 years before returning to Athens. Walter was encouraged to join the Alabama Veterans’ Board by friend and fellow Veteran Raymond Phelps. He feels like more should be done to help the Veterans of Limestone County and hopes to do this through involvement with the museum.
By: Sandy Thompson, Director, Alabama Veterans’ Museum