CLEVELAND - As the NFL "take a knee" controversy rages on, we were also reminded this weekend of how the greatest generation is getting smaller and smaller.
Asa Newman, a Cleveland native and living history book, turned 99-years-old.
He, and friend Roy Richardson, both of Cleveland, are two of the few remaining legendary Tuskegee Airmen of WWII.
The Tuskegee Airmen were all black military pilots who trained in the United States during World War II in Tuskegee AL.
Counting all pilots and support staff, mechanics, cooks, about 15,000 to 20,000 were part of the "Tuskegee experience."
"We had four squadrons of fighter planes, four squadrons of bombers," says Richardson.
Dr. Richard Hansler, was a B17 navigator. He flew 25 missions before being shot down. Hansler, who is white, was at his buddy Asa's 99th birthday party to again say,
"Thank you to the Tuskegee Airmen. They protected us when we were flying missions out of Italy during WWII," said Hansler.
All three of them fought for the American flag.
Still, "Segregation was terrible," recalls Richardson.
There is no bitterness in Richardson's voice.
Just a matter of fact, recollection of days he has lived when equality didn't exist in the very country he fought for.
“Down in Tuskegee if you were walking down the sidewalk in town and a white woman was coming you had to get out into the street until she passed," says Richardson.
After the military was integrated?
"I was the only black in the group. They didn't want me. I get ready to go to bed at night and have to sleep on the floor because my mattress was soaked in water. I can laugh about it now, but I wasn't laughing then," says Richardson.
It’s history that Hansler lived through too.
“When I came back from the war it was terrible to see how badly the black soldiers were treated. The only had jobs like picking up garbage or cleaning the toilets," said Hansler.
Think of the progress they've seen together, these three veterans who still stand behind the flag.
It’s respect for the country they served and acknowledgement even from Hanseler, that there is still work to do.
"There has been a lot of progress but not enough," says Hansler.
Respect. Honor. Gratitude.
"They would protect us from the German fighters. We were very happy they were doing that and I never had a chance to say thank you to them until now, 70 something years later," says Hansler.
So when we think of the intersection of honor and respect for the flag, for this country and of the Americans who saw an opportunity to start a conversation that begins with, we have more work to do in the arena of equality," maybe we think of Asa Newman and Roy Richardson.
Veterans who know firsthand that freedom is not free and know firsthand that equality isn't always a given.
Maybe they don't even know what a tweet is, but they are #TheGoodStuff.
Able to honor the flag and still see the possible potential in this country that they love.
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