A surprise 104th birthday celebration was held last Sunday for Walter Crenshaw, the oldest living Tuskegee Airman at the Veterans Home of California in Los Angeles.
The Tuskegee Airmen became America’s first Black military airmen during World War II. Crenshaw was stationed at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Ala., from 1942 to 1944 and later reached the rank of sergeant.< p>According to Tuskegee University, “The Airmen’s success in escorting bombers during World War II — having one of the lowest loss records of all the escort fighter group, and being in constant demand for their services by the allied bomber units — is a record unmatched by any other fighter group.”
Crenshaw was not a pilot, but served as the administrative assistant to the provost marshal during the initial training of cadets for the 99th Pursuit Squadron and the 332nd Fighters Squadron. The Alabama-raised Crenshaw was responsible for checking the background and induction of each cadet, whom he got to know personally.
Like other Tuskegee Airmen, Crenshaw only received real recognition for his service much later in life. At the age of 99, he attended the grand opening celebration of the National Museum of the Tuskegee Airmen at Moton Field in Tuskegee in October 2008, where he was recognized as the eldest in attendance .
Last year at the City Hall in Torrance, Crenshaw received a Congressional Gold Medal replica for his service, and his profile is a permanent part of the exhibit “Tuskegee Airmen, Men in Flight” at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles.
Walter Crenshaw, who has been married to his wife, Zelma, since 1940, has five children, eight grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. He exercises every morning in bed before he gets up, can walk around, and used to do crossword puzzles every day before his eyesight took a turn for the worse about five years ago, his children said.
He was an active churchgoer and world traveler and today spends much of the day chatting with his many friends and family on his cellphone.