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Special to The Lancaster News
It was a warm, not too hot or too cold, Indian Summer day with a beautiful blue sky. Perfect weather for witnessing an air show perhaps at Shaw Air Force Base. However, this day, Sept. 18, 2011, was marked by my attendance at the Lancaster Lodges Prince Hall Day Celebration, held at Camp Creek AME Zion Church. I wasn’t there as an Eastern Star or a wife or daughter of a Mason. I was only there to support a program at the church for which I am a member and to support a church member, Sidney Ray Alexander, who happens to be the special deputy of Lancaster County Lodges of Prince Hall Free and Accepted Masons of the state and jurisdiction of South Carolina.
I was enamored by the “pomp and circumstance” of the service and inspired by the message of Alonzo Haynes, past grand master of South Carolina.
But nothing that I had heard or seen prepared me for what I would witness during that program. Introductions of honored guests were made, To my wonderment, one of the esteemed guests was Edward M. Gibson, a living legend and one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, who were the first African-Americans to fly for the United States military. For a history buff like me, you can imagine how awestruck I was. Especially since his presence was at our little country church during the time that “Red Tails,” the movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, was getting so much attention. It was noted during his introduction that he had contributed information toward the making of the film.
Immediately following the benediction, I hardly had any more patience for the pomp and circumstance. As the last of the Master Masons and Eastern Stars were filing out of the church during the recessional, I was on someone’s heels as I flew out the door and made a beeline to Tuskegee Airman 1st Lt. Edward M. Gibson, who was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007, along with other surviving Tuskegee Airmen.
It was as if he was a rock star and I was some kind of groupie, but I didn’t care. I asked to take a picture of him for which he graciously permitted and posed. I thanked him for the pictures and his service to this country and for his willingness to sacrifice his life by training to become a bombardier/navigator and be part of the 477th Bombardment Group who was going to be deployed to Japan during World War II.
It was then that this sharp-minded 89-year-old began to tell the famous story of the Tuskegee Airmen. I stooped at his knees and listened with excitement as visions of things I had seen and read played in my head from poignant references. That is, until I was interrupted by Masons and Eastern Stars who wanted their picture with this esteemed gentlemen.
I recently asked how Mr. Gibson was doing. Mr. Alexander said he was still doing well. On June 10, the Masons honored Mr. Gibson with a testimonial banquet in Charleston to celebrate his more than 40 years of service as grand secretary of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of South Carolina.
Unfortunately, neither Mr. Alexander nor I were able to attend because our gospel chorus was celebrating its 68th anniversary the same day. Mr. Alexander is one of the lead singers and I’m a church member, who was there to support the program. Who knows, there may be some great, well known, gospel singing celebrity in our midst who just may have me trampling people to get a picture or autograph. If so, I’ll let you know.
Tommicha Walker is a Lancaster County resident.