COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of primarily African American military pilots and airmen who fought in World War II.
The 332nd fighter group was stationed by Lockbourne, which is now known as Rickenbacker Air in Columbus.
William “Bill” Watkins Jr. was drafted into the U.S. Air Force in January 1943. He joined the Tuskegee Airmen a year later.
According to Bill’s sister Jeanne Jones, he was an intelligence officer the majority of the time he was there.
“He had lots of integrity, a straight shooter,” Jones said.
Bill broke barriers for his country by being a part of the first group of Black pilots and crews. It’s an accomplishment his family still admires him for.
“I couldn’t imagine what you would go through being one of the first Black officers, whether it’s an air squadron or even just a Black solider over there in general. Being treated differently, you are fighting the enemy on one front and it seems like you are fighting the enemy back home,” Bill’s great-nephew Alex Mottinger said.
Bill was a Columbus police officer before he served and Mottinger followed in his uncle’s footsteps.
“He taught me don’t ever quit, no matter what you do,” Mottinger said.
After Bill retired from the Air Force in 1964 with the rank of Major, he went back to the police department and worked in the property room.
Bill passed away in 2008 at the age of 95. Mottinger hopes to carry on his legacy of service.
“It’s definitely a huge sense of pride for me, just being able to say my great-uncle was a Tuskegee Airman,” he said. “I’m going to do my best to live up to his example.”