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Interview with Quentin Smith [Undated]

Timothy J. Sanders:

My name is Tim Sanders, and I'm interviewing Mr. Quentin Smith today at his home in Gary, Indiana. And we'll begin with your address here is --

Quentin Smith:

My address is 3547 Jefferson Street, Gary, Indiana 46408.

Alan P. Pendergast:

And I've got your phone number. Where were you born, Quentin?

Quentin Smith:

I was born in Weldon, Texas. W-E-L-D-O-N, Texas.

Timothy J. Sanders:

I didn't know you were a Texan.

Quentin Smith:

Yep.

Timothy J. Sanders:

What's your birthday?

Quentin Smith:

My birth date is 7/30/18.

Timothy J. Sanders:

And what branch of the service were you in?

Quentin Smith:

In the U.S. Army Air Force.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Mm-hmm.

Quentin Smith:

That's what they called it then.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Right.

Quentin Smith:

Go back, Rusty. [speaking to dog?]

Timothy J. Sanders:

Do you recall battalions and your --

Quentin Smith:

I was in the 477 composite group. That's fighters and bombers together.

Timothy J. Sanders:

And what was your highest rank?

Quentin Smith:

First lieutenant.

Timothy J. Sanders:

All right. Do you remember your serial number?

Quentin Smith:

Sure. 0841274.

Timothy J. Sanders:

0841 --

Quentin Smith:

-- 41274.

Timothy J. Sanders:

-- 274. When did you go into service?

Quentin Smith:

Went in the service in 1942.

Timothy J. Sanders:

And you stayed then in until the end of the war?

Quentin Smith:

I stayed then -- no -- yeah -- I stayed till 1945.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

October 1945.

Timothy J. Sanders:

So when you went in, you were about -- how old?

Quentin Smith:

Let's see. I was about twenty-four or -five, I guess. Twenty-three or -four. I forgot now. Let's see. Eighteen from forty-two is what? Twenty-four.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Twenty-four.

Quentin Smith:

Right.

Timothy J. Sanders:

And this was World War II. Were you in Texas at the time?

Quentin Smith:

No. I was in East Chicago.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay. You moved up here then?

Quentin Smith:

My daddy came to East Chicago because he got in difficulty with a deputy sheriff. As a matter of fact, he broke his arm. And in those days, you didn't do that and live. So he -- his brother ran the ferry on the Trinity River, and he kept -- get -- sit down, boy [speaking to dog?] -- he kept the -- he kept the ferry across on the other side until he could give his brother about an hour or two of leeway. And he caught the first thing smoking. Now, Texans don't come up here. They go west. But he got the first thing smoking and brought him up here, and he got a job in the mills, and after a couple of years, he sent for all God's childrens. And that's how we got up here.

Timothy J. Sanders:

That's how you got here. And that would have been -- how old were you when you came to --

Quentin Smith:

About eight.

Timothy J. Sanders:

About eight years old --

Quentin Smith:

Right, mm-hmm.

Timothy J. Sanders:

-- East Chicago. And so you were up here then in -- in '42. And you enlisted, or you became an officer? How did that -- how did that work out?

Quentin Smith:

A friend of mine -- I didn't know about too many things. A friend of mine had received federal money to operate a private flying school, black.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

The black newspapers and black leaders had pressured President Roosevelt to enable blacks to fly, to be Marines and to be flying, fighting soldiers.

Timothy J. Sanders:

All right.

Quentin Smith:

And he told them that he was already listed with certain groups as -- as a Jew and as a kind of a nigger lover, and he was going to lose their vote. But if they could rally the blacks to vote for him, that -- and if he won, he would do that.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

So at that time, blacks were 98 percent, 99.9 percent Republicans.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Correct.

Quentin Smith:

And so the fellow who was the head of the railway porters and the two, three biggest newspapers -- Chicago Defender, Pittsburgh Courier and The Amsterdam News -- and all the black leaders, they talked with the black people to change their vote. Roosevelt got enough votes to win.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

Even though the South defected.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

And then -- but he didn't have enough strength to integrate. So he made a separate Air Force, a separate Marine Corps and a separate paratrooper group.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay. That was all black?

Quentin Smith:

All black. All of them were all black.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Officers and men --

Quentin Smith:

No, no, no, no. Always the officers were white.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

You see. Always the officers were white until we got to be officers, you see.

Timothy J. Sanders:

I see.

Quentin Smith:

Always the officers were white in the paratrooper group. Always the officers were white in the Marines, but everything else was black.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay. All right. And --

Quentin Smith:

And then so I saw her at a party. Her name was Willa Brown. She used to teach at Roosevelt, see. And she said, "Quentin," she said, "you know, there's going to be a war on, and you may have to go." I said, "Well, I believe in terra firma: The firmer the ground, the less terror." She said -- you know -- Next week, my number came up. So I called. I said, "Willa," I said, "can I get in?" She said, "Well, you have to go down to Chicago and enlist." And so my brother was already an infantryman, and he told me how tough it was. So I went down and enlisted. So now I've got to go over to learn how to fly, only I'm flying to be an instructor, not to be a cadet.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

And so the guys --

Timothy J. Sanders:

And this was in this school?

Quentin Smith:

Well, no. This is over in Chicago. 87th and Harlem.

Timothy J. Sanders:

All right.

Quentin Smith:

She had cut out three blocks of cornfields this way, three blocks that way, three blocks this way and rolled the ground. And we learned on 65-horsepower Cubs.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Wow.

Quentin Smith:

And the guy who was training me was about big as my finger. I wasn't this big, but I was 200, you know. And he was scared. And I didn't know this -- because I knew about torque and how you've got to come in with opposite rudders and that sort of thing, but I didn't know how much because he was always -- got his foot on it. He's sitting in the back. Well, after you get about nine hours, you've gotta solo. So it came my time to solo, and I took off. Ten seconds later, the plane went 90 degrees this way because I had -- I didn't know how much to correct for torque because you got the full gun on, you know.

Timothy J. Sanders:

I see.

Quentin Smith:

And so some guy told me later, said, "We started to shoot you down, man, because we didn't think you'd ever get down." But when you get your last ride, you're supposed to ride with the top person. So Willa said, "Come here, Quentin." And she was about that big. She took me up in a Cub and got it up to 3,000 feet, pulled it up in a stall, and you know, the roads crossed like -- we're looking down at the street. Nose never left the crossroads. Eight spins in the Cub, Piper Cub, you know.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Wow.

Quentin Smith:

And she said, you know -- said, "You big gorilla," said, "You don't fight these things like a bear. It's cool." And so she said, "Either you going to fly today or you going to be dead." She got out the other runway. And the first time I came in, I bumped into it a little bit. Second time. Third time, shucks. I was in.

Timothy J. Sanders:

No problem.

Quentin Smith:

I mean, I knew what to do. As a matter of fact, I went on then up to what they teach in the primary in the Air Force, but only I was doing it in a walkover, two-wing crop duster thing. They had the single-wing down at -- at Tuskegee. And everybody --

Timothy J. Sanders:

And you enlisted in Chicago?

Quentin Smith:

I enlisted in Chicago. I was trained to be an instructor to teach the black cadets at Tuskegee.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Got it. And then when did you graduate then and how did you get to --

Quentin Smith:

Hold it, hold it. So I went down to Tuskegee -- I went to -- I went to -- a big Air Force base in Mississippi.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Biloxi.

Quentin Smith:

That's right. Biloxi. And somehow things got messed up, and they kept us there for six months.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

And finally we --

Timothy J. Sanders:

And this was all the black --

Quentin Smith:

All the black -- all the -- yeah, all the black guys who were going to be instructors, you see.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

And so we refused to even drill or do anything. And so the officers there said well, they'd make us mess hall attendants, you know. So we kept guys -- we had about 40,000 guys there, you know.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Big base.

Quentin Smith:

Yeah. Big base. And so finally we went to Tuskegee.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

And so we had to sharpen our skills a bit. They didn't let us fly at Biloxi. So we had to sharpen our skills again. And after about a month of that, they said, "We don't need any more primary instructors." They don't -- they didn't let blacks fly the Army-type, the BT-13s, AT-6s and the other fighter groups. They didn't let them fly those. Only primary training.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

And so all of us who were young enough could go back through the cadet corps. By this time, hey, it's almost '44. And so -- could go back through the cadet corps. Well, I was an old man. I was going to be 25. But I had more hours than they even gave, you know, but not in all the ships that they had.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

So my going back was, you know, prima facie. I mean, it was -- unless I hit somebody, I wasn't -- I was going to go through.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Right.

Quentin Smith:

However, the first class went through in 42C, which is March.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

They did not go over until 43C.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

Now, contrast that with the fact that it takes you eight months to learn how to fly. It takes you another month to learn how to do combat. They fished George Bush, Sr. out of the Pacific after being -- falling out or shot down, and he was 19. So you see the difference?

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

The white boys went in at 18. We couldn't come in unless you had a college degree. That's all they had to tell you. The first groups, you couldn't even come in without a college degree.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Right.

Quentin Smith:

You don't need a college degree to fly. Nine-year-old girls, you know, can fly. But for us --

Timothy J. Sanders:

Yeah. They made you have a college degree.

Quentin Smith:

That's right. First year, everybody had to have a college degree. So -- And yet, no class finished with 40 -- with less than -- with more than 40 percent of those who came in. There was a 60 percent washout of every class that came through from beginning to end.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Wow.

Quentin Smith:

If 100 came --

Timothy J. Sanders:

Forty left?

Quentin Smith:

-- 40 left.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Now, was this -- and all this classwork took place at Tuskegee?

Quentin Smith:

At Tuskegee. They built a whole new airfield.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

Not at the university. Ten miles from the university. They cleared a forest. They built a whole new airfield, whole new barracks with a white colonel in charge and white instructors. Over near the college, close to the college was the primary training that they got as primary instructors, and that was all black, which is what I was to be.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Right.

Quentin Smith:

And so as a result, the next year, if you had two years of college, you could come. And only in the third year of the war did they let black high school kids come in.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

You see. So this is the way it went. Well, and -- but nobody wanted our graduates. No colonel and no general overseas.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

So they were just getting seven hours a month, you know, flying time and sitting around. Sitting around and courting the girls at the campus. Those girls got more flowers than ever. Courting the girls at the campus, you know.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

Until Mrs. Roosevelt came.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

And she said, "I'm going to go up in one of them little planes," the L-5, the kind that observers for the artillery -- it's a little bigger than a Cub, but not much.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

Because they can just hover, you know, and just sit, and you can see where shells are landing. And the Secret Service men almost had a conniption, but what can you tell the First Lady when she says, "I'm going to do this"?

Timothy J. Sanders:

Yeah. So that was her?

Quentin Smith:

That's right. So she went up and flew. She came back. She went back and gave pillow talk to Franklin. The next month, the guys went over.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

Even when they went over, they were separated. Throughout the Air Force was like -- at Lafayette, they were here in the woods.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

You see, and had to have corrugated parapets to take off on, you know, as opposed to runways.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Runways.

Quentin Smith:

Some kind, you know. This whole thing. And they never called them up to do anything, certainly not to shoot down enemy.

Timothy J. Sanders:

But they finally went to Europe --

Quentin Smith:

They were to get railroads. They were to get trucks. They were to get [inaudible] on the side. One of our guys said they never saw a plane for six weeks other than their own. And never saw a white pilot.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Amazing.

Quentin Smith:

Until Anzio. Anzio was tough, and they let them come in since they were close to Anzio.

Timothy J. Sanders:

All right.

Quentin Smith:

They got 16 planes that day. Not one guy, but three or four, five guys got a plane. You know, some got two, three, that sort of thing. But that day, they got 16 planes.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Shot them down?

Quentin Smith:

Yeah.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

Now they're beginning to take a little look. But before that, there was a white senator who said, you know, "They're not worth anything. Scrap it." And B.O. Davis had to come back overseas -- from overseas to talk before the Senate to tell them that they had not had the opportunity.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Mm-hmm.

Quentin Smith:

But they were killing American fliers and American sold -- I mean people on planes like flies.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

For one three-month period there, they killed 100,000.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Wow.

Quentin Smith:

Because we had daylight bombing.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Mm-hmm.

Quentin Smith:

Every one of those big fortresses, you only had about 9, 10 men. And what would usually happen, if they survived the ack-ack and all that stuff on the ground, they tried to make the turn to go home, out of the clouds would come the Focke-Wulfs and the Me-109s. And a couple of them would go right through the formation, if they had one. And then the people who were supposed to be escorting them take off after them. Then out of the clouds come nine more. Obliteration.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Yeah.

Quentin Smith:

So they decided to give us a chance.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

And this -- when they gave us a chance, B.O. Davis said -- by the way, he'll be 90 this year. He has Alzheimer's, but I just got a call a while ago that his wife, who also has Alzheimer's, just died --

Timothy J. Sanders:

Oh.

Quentin Smith:

-- yesterday. Well, anyway, he told the guys, he said, "Stick with the bombers. Don't take off after these other planes if they get out of a certain distance. Stick with them." About 12 years ago, I was in Detroit to a Tuskegee convention. A fellow came up to me, and he said, "Are you Big Q?" I said, "Yes." "Are you the president of the central region of Tuskegee Airmen?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Well, my name is Bud Dietz." He said, "You know, I'm from Lake Charles, Louisiana." He said, "I was flying a B-17, you know, back in the war. And I just made a bomb raid, and I looked out at 2:00, and I saw two Me-109s. And I already got a crippled engine, and I knew we were dead. But I looked out at 10:00, and I saw two red tails." That's what they -- B-51s were painted to look like that. Red spinners and red tails.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

"And I thought that I might live. They shot down the Me-109s, and they escorted us until our belly landed. And I said if I ever got the opportunity, I was going to be a Tuskegee Airman, and I was going to build a place where black and white kids in Lake Charles, Louisiana can learn how to fly." He did. That chapter still exists. He died two years ago, and they're flying.

Timothy J. Sanders:

That's wonderful.

Quentin Smith:

And it got so that all the people who were flying the bombers were afraid that if they didn't get the red tails, that they were going to die, which usually happened. But they knew that they stuck with them and they didn't go off chasing, trying to shoot down two, three planes way over in the wild blue yonder, you know.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure. How many -- how many were there in your group? In your --

Quentin Smith:

The pilots?

Timothy J. Sanders:

Yeah.

Quentin Smith:

Completed from beginning to end, there were about 996 pilots.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

There were about 75 bombardiers and navigators.

Timothy J. Sanders:

All right.

Quentin Smith:

And that's the end of the pilot range. But behind every pilot, of course, there were eight other guys. There were armorers, mechanics.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Mm-hmm.

Quentin Smith:

All kinds of people.

Timothy J. Sanders:

All right.

Quentin Smith:

Well, now my class went over. But when they looked up, here's a guy 6 feet tall, weighed 198 pounds. Hey, I could fly a 51 in a jumpsuit, you know, in the summer, but when you get up there at 15, 20, 30,000, all that stuff with sheepskin stuff on and a jacket and shoes and the whole thing, even if I tried to get out, I couldn't get out of the plane, you know. I'd be stuck.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

So they hadn't counted on that. So they said, well, we had to have bombers. Okay. But the transition from a fighter to a bomber doesn't take, you know, that long.

Timothy J. Sanders:

And you were training on fighters at the time?

Quentin Smith:

Fighters, right. Yeah. The transition from that to bombers is, you know, no big deal. In about a month, if you do it, you know, every day, you can do it.

Timothy J. Sanders:

All right.

Quentin Smith:

But then when we finished, same thing happened to us.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

They're not about to let a white waist gunner or a white bombardier or a white navigator or a white assistant pilot be under a black.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Under a black pilot.

Quentin Smith:

That's right. So we flew around for five months. And --

Timothy J. Sanders:

Just waiting?

Quentin Smith:

Chasing girls. California. Chicago. Wherever, you know. Until finally we got the black bombardiers and the black navigators.

Timothy J. Sanders:

So you had to have a whole black crew?

Quentin Smith:

That's right. That's right.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

So now we got the crew. But normally you'd think they'd send us to an Air Force base.

Timothy J. Sanders:

You'd think.

Quentin Smith:

They sent us to Fort Knox. Now, Fort Knox is the armored division base. Fort Knox is bigger than Gary and Hammond and East Chicago put together because them big armored tanks, they got guns that shoot a mile, you know. And so -- but they have a little airport. But the airport was only for dignitaries and observer planes, you know, to see how well did they shoot, how well things were doing.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

This is what we had to take off on. And it was only two and a half, three blocks long. Well, to take off, you had to hold the brake, run it up, drop 15 degree of flaps, and you're sitting there -- [imitating engine noise]. And then do like Jimmy Doolittle did, you know, on the air carrier. Leap over Louisville. Well, now, something -- if you're not too sober that day and the wind is blowing the wrong way, something's going to go wrong. Well, it did. And all of the guys were killed. Well, they wanted to hush that up, you know, so -- they didn't want to say that we were flying the planes on a small runway. So they moved us to Seymour.

Timothy J. Sanders:

That's how you got to Seymour.

Quentin Smith:

Seymour was a four-engine base.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

And the runways were a mile and something long.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

And we didn't even need half of that, you know, to take off on.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Now, this was Seymour, Indiana?

Quentin Smith:

Seymour, Indiana. As soon as we got there, we went to the officers' club. And the officers on base said, "Hold it. You can't go in." I said, "I'm sorry, you know. You don't know the Army regulations. Any officer can go in any club in the United States or its possessions." He said, "Well, I place you under arrested quarters," which means go back. Nothing happens. It's like playing the Star-Spangled Banner in a hall. Every soldier must come to attention, you know. So this 10 went back. Then 10 more came. Then 10 more came. Well, we had 546 black officers of all stripes in this group. And --

Timothy J. Sanders:

And were all of them at Seymour?

Quentin Smith:

Oh, yeah. You were never divided. All of them.

Timothy J. Sanders:

All of them --

Quentin Smith:

Half the guys had come back from overseas --

Timothy J. Sanders:

Yeah.

Quentin Smith:

-- and the rest of us who hadn't gone and all the other people that go with them. Medical doctors, the lawyers, the MPs --

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

-- the whole group.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

You see. But these are all officers. I'm not talking about the enlisted men. The enlisted -- we had 2,000 enlisted men, and we had 546 officers. Well, anyway, on that base were 500 white officers and 1,000 enlisted whites -- white men. So after the fourth group went up, he knew that it was out of hand, so he called the colonel, who was white. The colonel called all of us in, and he said, "Trainees," that's what he called us. Here's a man got 20 years of medical practice. Here's one just back from overseas, face half burnt off. Here are guys who got 75 sorties and victories, you know --

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

-- overseas. But we're all trainees just because we're in our group instead of separate.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Well, because you're black.

Quentin Smith:

Oh, yeah. And so we booed him, booed him off the stage in the hangar. So he called the general, General Hunter. And Hunter said, "Set up a court-martial board." Well, I'll tell you what happened to me. "Name, rank and serial number." "First Lieutenant Quentin Smith." "Have you read my base regulations?" "I have, sir." "Would you sign it?" "No, sir." "Disregard whether you fully understand it. Will you sign it?" "No, sir." "Are you familiar with the 64th Article of War?" I said to myself, "Damn." You know, I left Roosevelt's school. I was making $130 a month, which was a decent salary then. I am now making 275. And I'm quite sure my salvation is return to the military. But now I'm caught. And so he said, "I say to you, are you familiar with this? If you're not familiar, let me tell you what it says. Failure to obey the direct order of a commanding officer is punishable up to and including death. I order you to sign." The wind left my lungs. All I could do was this. And the transcript said, "Answer yes or no." I said, "No." He rapped on the gavel. He said, "Go out this door." I came in that door. As soon as I stepped out, the soldier loads and locks, said "Move, lieutenant; got orders to shoot. Go back to your barrack. Don't put your head out. Don't come out. You last more than a day, we'll bring you the food." So I'm sitting there. I said, "Well, I will be." I said, "I'm just 190 miles from home. And here I am in this mess." One day went by. Two days went by. Three days went by. On the fourth day, boom, boom, boom, the butt of the rifle. He said, "Get your gear, lieutenant." Well, we hadn't been there but six days at best, you know.

Timothy J. Sanders:

How many of -- how many of you were there in the barracks locked in there?

Quentin Smith:

I don't know how many.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

I don't know how many. You see, because they had -- this base was practically half-empty, you know.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

And they had us spread all out everywhere, you see --

Timothy J. Sanders:

I see.

Quentin Smith:

-- with MPs, you know, standing in the areas. And so -- I said -- he said, "Get your gear, lieutenant." I said, "Where are we going?" He said, "I think you've had it." I said, "What you mean?" He said, "You've got 20 years at Leavenworth." I said, "Say what?" He said, "Yep. Let's go." Marched us to the ramp. And I looked up. I thought I saw a lot of guys. Well, I saw 100 more besides myself.

Timothy J. Sanders:

All right.

Quentin Smith:

So 101 of the 546 said no.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

And they're going to make examples of us. They flew us back to Fort Knox in C-46s this time.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

But now you've got klieg lights. You've got barbed wire. You've got guards.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Mm-hmm.

Quentin Smith:

You've got the whole business. I said, "Well, I will be." Well, the guys that were left behind, they knew that somehow they had not done the right thing. So they potted up their moneys, and they called NAACP. And on the 12th day of our confinement, a young man came by the name of Thurgood Marshall. You ever heard of him?

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

He came. It got too big for the colonel. It got too big for the general. It went to President Truman. President Truman said, "Turn them loose," meaning us. We were turned loose right then in the Godman Field in Fort Knox. No command, no nothing. No anything. Truman set up a commission to study integration of the armed forces. And Thurgood said, "Well, let me tell you something." He said, "Those of you who wish to, can get an honorable discharge. If you stay in, there's a letter in your folder, in your 201 file, that says you're some really bad dudes. And your chance of promotion are slim and none." And so I was an old man, you know. But these kids now had come out, 18, 19. They'd never had any jobs or had done anything, but been in the cotton fields. They hadn't done anything, you know. They stayed because where were they going, you know.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Right.

Quentin Smith:

But I came out. So I came out with an honorable. In 1995 -- oh, year and a half later, Truman integrated the armed forces.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Right. Right.

Quentin Smith:

You see. And in 1995 in Atlanta, our speaker was the assistant secretary of the Air Force. And when he got finished, he said, "I have some good news." He said, "And I want you to know that the 101 who had that severe letter of reprimand in their folders, it will be taken out." And the whole crowd just cheered. But what we didn't know was that we had to write and ask them. And mine is still there.

Timothy J. Sanders:

You refused to do that?

Quentin Smith:

Fifty years later? Huh? I said, you know, when you've made a mistake -- in my mind, if I make a mistake and I say to you, "I'm sorry," and if I've written something about you, I send it back to you with apology. But this is reversed in the military. You've got to write and say, "Would you please on this form -- you know, take it out," and then we'll take it out. And so I told this story to a ?vol-pro? group. I guess it was the Lions or one of those clubs, you know, that group.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

Sitting in the audience were two -- two legislators. And they said, "What?" I said, "Yeah." And so boy, they jumped all over the Air Force.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

And the guys in the State House jumped all over them, too, you know.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Good.

Quentin Smith:

Lo and behold, guess what? All the records concerning that were burned up in the Army base in Missouri, and there is no record anyhow.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Of the 101?

Quentin Smith:

It doesn't exist anymore. So that's the end of the story.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

But it was the kind of thing where you said you would never, you know -- you wouldn't give a million to do and 2 million to do again. Let me tell you something else, what the guys said overseas. Anytime any guy got four kills, they sent him home to sell bonds. They were not about to let a black become an ace. But one day, one of the guys got the fifth one. They said, "No. Your wingman got a piece. You got four and a half."

Timothy J. Sanders:

They weren't going to let him be an ace.

Quentin Smith:

Sent him home. But in reality, he did get it because when you fly, the guns have tracers, you know.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

This guy didn't have any bullets. They were no tracers at all in his --

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

-- in his gun. But they were not about to let -- One guy got a destroyer. And that's almost next to a battleship, you know.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Yeah.

Quentin Smith:

But he got it. The pictures were all there. Let's see. What else? Two hundred missions. They never lost a bomber.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Wow.

Quentin Smith:

If he made that turn and missed that ack-ack --

Timothy J. Sanders:

You got him home?

Quentin Smith:

He got home, got home safe.

Timothy J. Sanders:

And where did you fly out of then?

Quentin Smith:

I flew out of -- I trained in Texas in the 25s. I flew at Godman Field. I flew at Tuskegee. And our group, when they finally brought them together and brought B.O. Davis back and put him over the entire group, they moved them to Columbus. That's where I got out, at Columbus, Ohio.

Timothy J. Sanders:

In Columbus, Ohio.

Quentin Smith:

Right. And that was where the integration came, and all the guys were distributed to whatever groups that they were doing.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Now, when -- you got out then in '45?

Quentin Smith:

Right.

Timothy J. Sanders:

The war -- so you're getting out of the service. I've talked to a lot of people who got out when the war was over.

Quentin Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Timothy J. Sanders:

You know, they say, "Well, we dropped the bomb on Japan, and two weeks later, they said, you know, go on home."

Quentin Smith:

Right.

Timothy J. Sanders:

But your getting out of the service was less related to what was going on in the war --

Quentin Smith:

That's right, that's right.

Timothy J. Sanders:

-- and more of what was going on --

Quentin Smith:

Well, see -- well, see, we had -- we had a double V for victory. We have a victory overseas, but also V for victory at home. Well, see, in the meantime, the black paratroopers, they finished much quicker. They didn't send them over. They sent them to fight forest fires in Washington, DC. And they told them, said the Japanese were sending over fire bombs and balloons and they were setting fire to the forest. Well, hell, that's a natural thing out east -- I mean out west.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

You don't need to send fire bombs. Every summer, nature sees to it that there's a burn, you know.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Yeah. Sure.

Quentin Smith:

And by any means -- but that's where they shipped them. They didn't get a chance to go over. Marines didn't get a chance to go over. And so as a result, they didn't want anybody to have any recognition whatsoever.

Timothy J. Sanders:

So any -- any blacks that went over to Europe were -- what? Cooks and --

Quentin Smith:

Cooks. Bury the dead. Set up, get up camps. The only person -- the only general who permitted them to fight was Patton.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

Patton said, "I don't care if they're striped apes. If they can run these damn tanks and fight, I'll take them." The 761st was the first group to liberate the people in the concentration camps. And they blazed across France like -- like it was a racetrack.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Did Patton keep the blacks and whites separated?

Quentin Smith:

No. They were in the -- no, he didn't keep them separated. No. Just blacks -- they went right -- the blacks were in the tanks, you know.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Uh-huh.

Quentin Smith:

Were in the tanks together. But the group went together. That's what he did. No. He couldn't -- no. He didn't keep them separate. The other man who would have taken us was MacArthur. He would have taken us overseas on the Pacific coast. But every other colonel, every other general said no. Now, let me give you an example of how bad that was. The policy when we came in was blacks can't fight, blacks can't lead, and blacks can't fly. And the white boys, they don't know the difference. If this is what the Army said, it must be true. And they believed that. They said, "We don't want no blacks riding, you know, helping us. Because they can't fight." What they did was distort history, you see.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

The first integrated army was George Washington's. And how do we know that? You can go down to the Pentagon or to the Museum of -- what's that other museum they got there? Well, anyway, you can find a list, at least 5,000 blacks in his army. And it says behind each name "colored, colored, colored." And he didn't simply want them, but --

Timothy J. Sanders:

Were they slaves, or were they freed slaves?

Quentin Smith:

Both.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Both?

Quentin Smith:

Both. Because, you see, some of them had slaves. You know, Jefferson, all those people, they had slaves. But there were some freed men, too. But my point is -- and these were not draftees, you know. The whites were. And when they got pretty close to their farms, within 50 miles of their farm and it was springtime, they went home and planted that cotton and corn.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

Or when it was in October, November, they'd put their rifle up, went home, and --

Timothy J. Sanders:

And harvested.

Quentin Smith:

-- and harvested. Because there was nobody to take care of the family.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Right.

Quentin Smith:

And he had to have some steady folks. And if you've got the blacks, where they going? You've got a steady army. And so they were in that army. Jackson, when he took New Orleans, he had 37,000. And they're listed the same way. When the big war came, 175,000 blacks fought in the Civil War. 50,000 fought for the South.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

The North gave 17 Congressional Medals of Honor to the black soldiers in the North.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Mm-hmm.

Quentin Smith:

You may think John Wayne won the West or somebody like him. They didn't. The Buffalo soldiers.

Timothy J. Sanders:

That's right.

Quentin Smith:

They, too, got 17 Congressional Medals of Honor. Then how did this thing get changed in World War I -- by World War I? Well, this is the gospel according to Quentin Smith. They took a survey in the late -- in the middle '20s, 1920. When the question asked was what was the most respected jobs in the United States, and it came out Supreme Court justice, university professors and bankers. That was before the fall. And nothing strange about that. They said, "Let's look at the South." When they looked at the South, the most respected jobs in the South were generals, generals, generals. So what did the majority of -- or not the majority. Many of the brightest, the best and the brightest in the South, where did they go to school? Military.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Military school.

Quentin Smith:

And when things began to open up, feelings began to drop off a little bit, they became in charge of every branch of the service. And from about 1898 to about 1915, it was a whisper, blacks can't fight, blacks can't lead, blacks can't fly.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Mm-hmm.

Quentin Smith:

When World War I came along, the one thing that was going was blacks can't fight. That one unit -- I've forgotten. I think it was the 376th, which was a part of the Buffalo before New York went over and was on the scene, but nobody would take them. No general. No colonel. What the hell are we going to do with them? They gave them to the French. And they fought with the French.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Fought with the French?

Quentin Smith:

And the French gave them 150 Croix de guerres.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Wow.

Quentin Smith:

Are you listening to me?

Timothy J. Sanders:

Yes.

Quentin Smith:

Which is the same thing as the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Mm-hmm.

Quentin Smith:

An interesting point took place. After the war, when we were all going to school -- when you go to school, you go to the most expensive one you can go to when the government's paying for it, so I went to Chicago University. [inaudible] battle and a guy we called Psych Smith, who was a psychologist for the Gary schools. And so we said, "Why drive all our cars separately when we can go in one car? We're pretty close. We get up about the same time." And so we said, "Okay." We're driving home. Psych Smith is talking about all these courses he's had. I said, "How the hell do you have courses? You weren't in World War II. How could you pay for these courses?" He said, "Man, I want you to know I was in World War I." I said, "How could you be in World War I?" He said, "I was 14 years old." They didn't give a damn about black men getting in the war. He could have been 50, you know, or 90 or --

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

And he said -- and I didn't find out this one thing -- that "All of us who were in that regiment can go to any school in the world and France would pay for it." And I didn't find it out until 1946.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Wow. He was in World War I?

Quentin Smith:

He was in World War I. He was in that group, you know. I mean, not that -- he didn't win any of those medals, but just for having been a part of that group. France, for their helping in their battle, gave them that; that they had -- he had had every course they had in the social sciences, every course they had in education. And he was scared to go for the doctorate. They finally told him if he didn't go for the doctorate, he was out. They wouldn't let him take any more in Chicago. They wouldn't let him take any more. But he had had something like 30 courses, you know.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Uh-huh. Wow.

Quentin Smith:

And so that's a sideline, okay. And so I don't know how I got onto this, but anyway, this is what -- this is what took place in that respect. We now have, in the Tuskegee Airmen, 41 chapters, practically in every big city in the United States. We have about -- pretty close to 2,000 members. And they're made up mostly of our heritage members and people who believe in our mission and our statement. For example, I belong to the Chicago chapter because in Gary, they only got four or five guys who were in it. We couldn't form a chapter. You've got to have at least 15 members.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Right.

Quentin Smith:

So the guys are or were ?Jim Harlem?. ?Jim Harlem? was a young kid like 16 -- no, 18 years old when he -- he was an armorer.

Timothy J. Sanders:

When I saw his thing in the paper, I didn't know -- I didn't realize he was a --

Quentin Smith:

?Jim Harlem? was a gunner. That's right. Dr. Chew.

Timothy J. Sanders:

I know the name.

Quentin Smith:

He was, too. Richard [inaudible] used to be the fire chief.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

A guy who used to have an office down here as an optometrist, Carl Ellis.

Timothy J. Sanders:

I know the name.

Quentin Smith:

He was -- he was -- he had 47 missions. He's a fighter pilot. See, fighter pilots, you'll find they're all short. Nobody's over 5'10", you know, in those days. But with the jets, hey, you can get a 300-pound man in a jet, and he feels good, you know. But -- so our chapter, we were with the people in Chicago. We've got a lot of guys. We always have on average about -- oh, 100 members, even when the death rate is increasing rapidly, you know --

Timothy J. Sanders:

Sure.

Quentin Smith:

-- because all these guys are getting old. Notice I said "these guys."

Timothy J. Sanders:

I know. I noticed. They are.

Quentin Smith:

Yeah. They are. We fly -- we've been flying out of Meigs Field. And we take kids, whoever wants to fly. They haven't been up before. We fly them. And who flies them? We fly them. OBAP, the Organization of Black Airline Pilots, flies them. And Friends of Meigs Field, who are white guys who've got planes. And we fly on the average of 100 kids a month 11 months of the year. About seven years ago, we got into a hassle with a fellow named Mayor Daley. We got into a hassle because he was saying he was going to turn Meigs Field into something other than Meigs Field. So politics makes strange bedfellows. It put the then-Governor Edgar, Bobby Rush, Chicago chapter of Tuskegee Airmen and Friends of Meigs Field all together.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Yep.

Quentin Smith:

And we even lobbied against it down in Springfield. And it got so hot that he said, "We'll call a moratorium." Then he called a five-year moratorium. Five years were up February 15, this year.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Mm-hmm.

Quentin Smith:

And lo and behold, we had prepared -- because we didn't see how we were going to win this because we knew that Ryan was -- you know, he's too good a friend of Daley's to fight for us.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Right.

Quentin Smith:

But he was good enough friend to fight for somebody else, which meant that when he sided for Peotone and Meigs Field, you see --

Timothy J. Sanders:

Yeah.

Quentin Smith:

-- in order that Daley could get the old runways over those people in the suburbs.

Timothy J. Sanders:

That's right.

Quentin Smith:

So we're still alive. We had got ready to move our stuff to Gary because we knew we couldn't -- we knew we didn't have enough clout to, you know, to do that.

Timothy J. Sanders:

To keep the base open.

Quentin Smith:

And lo and behold, the gods have smiled on us, and we're still at Meigs Field. Things work in mysterious ways. And then we bring the kids over -- whoever wants to fly here at -- to really learn how to fly. We bring them over to Gary in the summertime 'cause there's not a lot of traffic. And for $75, they can learn how to fly. 7 to 17.

Timothy J. Sanders:

That's wonderful.

Quentin Smith:

And the girls always outfly the boys because they're put together. You know, the boys are still -- you know, bodies are still flailing all over the place. And flying, especially in these lighter planes, is coordination, you know. You have to, you know -- you have to coordinate. And so this is what we're doing. And we got two scholarships. We got 50,000 from the State of Illinois to assist kids to learn how to take the SAT and to mentor them. We got a million and a half from the tobacco company. What's that big one?

Timothy J. Sanders:

Philip Morris?

Quentin Smith:

That's right. And we got the roughest area. I didn't think this area was rough. The South Shore area, you know, around where that place is?

Timothy J. Sanders:

Yeah.

Quentin Smith:

That's one of the lowest academic areas in the city. I didn't know that.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Yeah.

Quentin Smith:

The houses look nice. Everything looks nice. Well, we're working with them now.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

With the funds that they got. And we've hired somebody to, you know -- who's capable to do it and that sort of thing. I would have done it if I lived there, but it's too -- even now, this evening, I've got to go to a meeting. And I'm happy that this year, snow was not there. But now I have to go all the way down by 37th and Giles.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay. Wow.

Quentin Smith:

That's where that military high school is. And since we get free rent and all that -- we give them something at the end of every year, but we get free rent and a place to meet and that whole thing, you know. And a place to park and everything. But for me -- that's a -- on a bad day, that's a full hour's drive, you know.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Oh, yeah.

Quentin Smith:

Getting there. So about -- I'm the first vice president.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Of the Chicago?

Quentin Smith:

No. Of the national.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Of the national?

Quentin Smith:

Yeah. Mm-hmm. I used to be the regional president.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

And that's -- that was 17 chapters. And now I'm the first vice president of the national. So I keep, you know, a little busy doing that. And we give scholarships to kids. We changed one high school in Chicago because there weren't any high schools that were Air Force ROTC because it never became Air Force until -- what? About 19 -- what? -- '50-something. And so there were no ROTC Air Force things. But we changed the -- one of the big -- one of the big high schools -- I think it's Desalvo -- from being an Army ROTC to an Air Force RTC.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Right.

Quentin Smith:

Because there weren't any within 50 miles of Chicago.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Mm-hmm.

Quentin Smith:

And so these are -- oh, we have essay contests, which is judged by the people who work at the aviation department in Chicago. We're going to have a mural in Midway that depicts -- panorama that depicts what -- you know, what we do. And what else? That's about it except we talk, you know, on every occasion. I used to speak at LTV and at [inaudible]. And there's a place down there called TXX. I think that's the name of it. About a 15-story building, and I've never been in that one before, but they --

Timothy J. Sanders:

Down where?

Quentin Smith:

In the Loop in Chicago.

Timothy J. Sanders:

Okay.

Quentin Smith:

And that building is a museum of every kind of transportation of every kind of president, of every kind -- and all the walls are pictures bigger than this, of all of them, you know, and the halls are two thirds of a block long. Every way that you can go, you know. And the guy who's the chief exec, he flies our kids now since we got in. We got him tied up there. He's got a plane. He flies the kids, too. So this is what we've been doing. And this is just about the whole story unless you have other questions.

Timothy J. Sanders:

That's wonderful. Thank you very much.

Quentin Smith:

And so I'm happy to do it. Very happy.

Timothy J. Sanders:

I've certainly enjoyed it. (Conclusion of interview.)

 
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  October 26, 2011
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