Local Tuskegee Airman passes away

Published 2:16 pm Friday, February 27, 2009

One of Alabama’s last two known surviving pilots of the original Tuskegee Airmen, Col. Harry E. Ford Jr. (Ret.), passed away at his Maylene home Thursday. He was 88.

Ford’s wife, Barbara, and family were by his side when he peacefully passed away, said close friend Jim Griffin.

“His mind was sharp as a tack, but his body was failing and getting weaker over a period of time,” Griffin said.

Ford was in and out of local hospitals and rehab facilities over the past few months and suffered a mild heart attack in recent weeks. He returned home earlier this week under hospice care, Griffin said.

Ford, originally from Illinois, was one of the more than 900 black pilots who trained at Moton Field outside of Tuskegee from 1941-46. He trained to be a B-25 pilot in the Pacific during World War II, but the war ended before he could go overseas, Griffin said. After the war, Ford served 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, including being stationed at the Pentagon.

Griffin, the executive director of the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, met Ford while developing the museum’s Tuskegee Airmen exhibit. Ford served as technical adviser and headed a committee to organize the exhibit. He was also a member of the Southern Museum of Flight Board of Directors and a member of the Birmingham Aero Club.

Ford volunteered at the museum every Thursday for the past three years, up until the last three to four months, Griffin said. During that time, the two became close friends, eating lunch together once a week and attending numerous events at Moton Field.

“Col. Ford spent a lot of time talking to children and other adults,” Griffin said. “He always took the time to talk to them to tell them about the Tuskegee Airmen and answer their questions. He’s met many thousands of boys and girls through the years.”

Ford is survived by his wife, Barbara; daughter, Janice Hardy; sons, Harry E. Ford III M.D., Keith Ford; brother, J.R. Ford (Ida); grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be Saturday, Feb. 28, beginning at 6 p.m. in the Southern Heritage Funeral Home chapel in Pelham. Visitation and chances to speak will follow the service. Ford is to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery at a date to be determined.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said that Col. Harry Ford was one of the last two surviving members in Alabama of the original Tuskegee Airman. In fact, he was one of the last two known Tuskegee Airmen pilots in Alabama. There are other known members of the Airmen that were mechanics or did not complete flight training and several unknown pilots and members of the original Airmen, according to Ron Brewington, former national public relations officer for the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.