Passing Of Tuskegee Airman Raises Questions

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Robert A. Decatur, who in 1944 was a Tuskegee cadet, served as one of the roughly 960 black pilots who escorted all-white bomber crews over Europe ... or not, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Decatur passed away last month and the Internet offers multiple sources (his obituary, as published in the Sentinel, among them) that detail his long, distinguished and honorable career. But the Sentinel now says it's all a fabrication and a product of Decatur's own embellishments that ranged over decades. The Sentinel says it has records that show Decatur did not complete pilot training at Tuskegee, did not graduate from the Tuskegee flight school program and did not fly in combat with Tuskegee airmen. The man who went on to become Judge Decatur and a civil rights activist may not have been a "judge" at all, the Sentinel suggests. For his war record, at least one Tuskegee Airmen interviewed by the Sentinel takes issue with what the Sentinel says is Decatur's own account and at least one member of Decatur's own family appears to have questions.

"He included himself as one of those heroes, and he wasn't," John Gay, president of the Orlando chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., told the Sentinel. A court spokeswoman told the Sentinel that Decatur's position as a probate magistrate in Cleveland did not make him a "judge." And the Sentinel says three "schools where Decatur said he taught law had no records of him." The Sentinel finishes its story with the words of Decatur's own daughter, who told the paper her father was a man who was held in high esteem in his community, but that "it confuses me sometimes. I don't know really what he was."