NEW ORLEANS - Calvin Moret is the only surviving member of the Tuskegee Airmen in New Orleans. The 88-year-old World War II Veteran is quick to remind one that there aren't too many of the all African-American fighter pilots left.
On Saturday, Moret will be participating in a panel discussion organized by the College Language Association. The name of the program is: "Porticos of Prejudice: An examination of two historical novels by southern author Dodie Cantrell-Bickley and the period that shaped them." Moret says he rarely turns down an opportunity to share his story and experiences, especially with the knowledge that he is among a fading group of veterans.
"Life's experiences are like a baton in a relay race, to be received and in turn passed on," said Moret.
Prejudice, Moret says, was prevalent during the time of World War II. While African-American soldiers and airmen served the United States armed forces, they followed different orders at home. Moret says he fought for the country, but did not fight the segregation he faced at home.
"I didn't go sit in front of the bus when maybe I could have in certain instances. I didn't go into that theater and sit in the orchestra when I was supposed to go to the balcony. I followed the law," said Moret.
Despite that segregation, Moret says he and his fellow airmen did not change their view on the mission before them. It did prompt questions in his mind about the state of prejudice around world during that time. Seeing how Nazi German treated Jews, and how the U.S. was treating African-Americans, Moret said he tried not to let that discrimination seep into this psyche.
"We were there to protect the nation and the people in the nation, it didn't make any difference to me anyway, if I was going to protect whites or blacks," said Moret.
That kind of response was common as Dodie Cantrell-Bickley interviewed African-American World War II veterans for her first book, "The Reason of Fools." Based on a true story inspired by her German mother, the book explores the love story of a couple during the WWII but also the plight of African-American soldiers during the time of integration of the U.S. military. Cantrell-Bickley says the African-American experience is, at its core, an American one.
"You can't study WWII and not see the story of just incredible bravery on the part of African-American soldiers who, in my mind, had no reason to fight for those freedoms and that they didn't enjoy at home. But that is part of the defining feature of Americans," said Cantrell-Bickley.
Together on Saturday, Moret and Cantrell-Bickley will attempt to paint a picture of a time when peace, human rights, and even love were not assured. Reflecting on all the uncertainty surrounding WWII, Moret contemplates a hypothetical question. What if the Nazi's had won?
"If the Germans treated the Jews as they did, and had they won the war, what would've happened to us, the African-Americans? The foolishness of racial prejudices can be a killer," Moret said.
For his service Moret was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. Cantrell Bickley is planning two companion novels. Her next novel, "A Reason to Fear" is due out Memorial Day weekend.