Enoch O’Dell “Woody” Woodhouse II, a 95-year-old Roxbury native and one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen, was honored for his service Monday with two murals in Logan International Airport and an appointment to the state militia.
Governor Charlie Baker, Major General Gary Keefe, and Victor Quiñonez, the artist who painted the murals depicting Woodhouse and other pioneering Black airmen, celebrated Woodhouse’s “tenacious and passionate” character at an event unveiling the murals.
“What makes [Woodhouse’s] story unique to me, is they speak to an arc of time in this country where, while we have made significant progress, there is much to do,” Baker said, in reference to racism in the United States. “Woody is someone who managed to climb above the rancor, and prejudice and indignity ... because, honestly, he is much bigger than that.”
Woodhouse was part of the 332nd Fighter Group, a World War II Army Air Forces unit known as the Tuskegee Airmen. The squadron, which consisted of 992 pilots and more than 14,000 other personnel, led bomber escort missions, flew over 15,000 sorties — single-plane attacks — in Europe and North Africa, and served as crucial bomb aimers, instructors, mechanics, and support staff, according to the National WWII Museum’s website.
For the Tuskegee Airmen, the fighting wasn’t only taking place abroad. While combating fascism in Nazi Germany and Italy, they were fighting racism at home.
For centuries, Black people had served only in menial jobs during wars because they were seen as inferior to white people, but to attract the Black vote in 1940, then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt allowed Black aviators to enlist in the military, according to History.com.
The next year, Black pilots and airmen were trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, forming the Tuskegee Airmen.
Despite opposition and doubt from white Americans, the airmen showed unparalleled success during WWII, quickening the desegregation of the US military in 1948 under president Harry S. Truman, according to History.com. Woodhouse overcame those who doubted him through persistence and hard work.
“Not everybody in the world loves you,” Woodhouse said Monday at the unveiling of the murals. “No matter what people think of me or people like me, you know what? I just keep on stepping.”
Raised in Mission Hill, Woodhouse attended English High School, located in the South End at the time, and enlisted in the Army soon after graduating in 1944. After a couple of years of service, Woodhouse became a second lieutenant, according to a Boston University publication, and finally the paymaster for the Tuskegee Airmen, meaning he ensured the squadron received their wages and salaries.
After the war, Woodhouse earned his undergraduate degree at Yale University and studied law at Boston University. He worked as a trial lawyer in Boston for more than four decades, according to the publication.
Among the honors Woodhouse received Monday was an appointment to the state militia as a lieutenant colonel, and promotions to colonel and brigadier general, officials said.
In a long life filled with accomplishments, Woodhouse said he has learned that loving and praying for one another can help America overcome divisions.
“Just love each other,” Woodhouse said. “You can pray about me all you please, but I’ll pray for you on my knees.”
Governor Baker said the event served as a time to “recognize, honor, and appreciate forever the very special role the Tuskegee Airmen play in so many ways, not just with our military, but with our communities from one end of the United States to the other.”
Travelers can see the murals at Logan Airport on the Arrivals level of Terminal C, outside the USO facility.
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect English High School’s previous location in 1944 when Enoch O’Dell “Woody” Woodhouse II attended the school.