A Harlem man who served with the Tuskegee Airmen recently celebrated a major milestone in a long, historic life. NY1 Manhattan Reporter Michael Scotto has his story.
Reginald Brewster's eyes no longer work — but his hands still do.
At 100, Brewster plays the piano most days inside his Harlem home, a way of keeping his mind sharp.
"I can remember a lot of things, even some of the things I would like to forget," Brewster told me, chuckling.
One thing he'll never forget is his time as a Tuskegee Airman — 16,000 black pilots, technicians, and support staff who served during World War II. The famed group was formed after Civil Rights advocates pressed military officials to begin training African Americans to be pilots.
"They did not consider a man of color capable, able to fly an airplane," Brewster said.
Trained in Tuskegee, Alabama, the airmen fought racism as they prepared to fight for their country. Brewster never flew; he was stationed in England and France, assisting the base commander, and was treated better abroad than back at home.
"When I got to England, they treated me very royally, royally, royally," Brewster said. "I had two families who wanted to adopt me."
After the war, Brewster attended Fordham University. "I majored in government and minored in math," he recalled.
And then he was off to Fordham Law School, practicing law until he was 90.
Brewster is now one of just 100 Tuskegee Airmen believed to still be alive.
Two others attended his 100th birthday party last week. One was his good friend Wilfred DeFour, who is nearly 99 years old.
"We didn't know we were making history," DeFour said. "First of all, we were there trying to stay alive and do the job assigned to us."
The other who attended the party was 97-year-old Mildred Spaulding. She worked at the base in Tuskegee, and says during the war they always fought to give themselves the recognition they deserved.
"If they didn't give it to us, we gave it to our ourselves," Spaulding said. "After all, it was a war going on. We were very important."
But when the war ended, the fighters still endured racism. It took decades for that to change. In 2007, the Airmen were finally awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Through it all, Brewster says he was always proud of his service.
"I tried to do whatever I could to augment and not diminish the stature of the Tuskegee Airmen," Brewster said.
And at 100, he is making sure their remarkable story is not forgotten.