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Honoring The Life Of Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Luke Joseph Weathers Jr.

Rep. Steve Cohen

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Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor the life of Lt. Col. Luke Joseph Weathers Jr., a Tuskegee Airman in the 332nd Fighter Group. He was born to Luke Joseph Weathers, Sr. and Jessie Rita Hawkins on December 16, 1920 in Grenada, MS. In 1925, he and his mother moved to Memphis, Tennessee to reunite with his father who had moved to Memphis earlier with his brother, William ``Bill'' Weathers.

Luke Weathers was baptized at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Memphis and later attended St. Anthony Catholic School. Weathers transferred and completed his high school education at Booker T. Washington where he excelled academically and athletically. Upon completion, he was accepted into Xavier University and studied from 1939-1942. He returned to Memphis in 1942 and read an article in a newspaper about an experimental training program for African-American pilots and aviation in Tuskegee, Alabama. After speaking to his parents about the program, Weathers met with Mayor E.H. Crump who made a call to President Roosevelt informing him that he would be sending Luke to the program. On July 27, 1942, Luke Weathers arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and trained for nine months and one day. On April 29, 1943 he began his active duty as a Fighter Pilot Single Engine in the 302N Fighter Squadron flying P-51 bombers. The 302N Fighter Squadron was later merged into the 332nd Fighter Group, also known as the ``Red Tails.'' Weathers named his plane the ``Spirit of Beale Street.''

Lt. Col. Weathers departed for Italy January 3, 1944 to begin his tour in WWII, traveling to North Africa, Italy, France, Europe, and Germany. For his courage and service, he earned an Air Medal with 7 clusters, a Distinguished Flying Cross medal and an American Theater Ribbon Victory Medal WWI. Weathers was credited with shooting down two German fighter aircrafts while on a mission to protect U.S. Army Air Corps bombers in Europe. During this tour, the Tuskegee Airmen never lost one of their bombers. Lt. Col. Weathers returned to Memphis on March 13, 1945 and became the first African-American to receive the key to the City of Memphis. He was also honored with a parade down Beale Street and the day was declared ``Capitan Luke Weathers Day.''

Luke Weathers met LaVerne Nalling while in Memphis. Together, they owned and operated several businesses including the Weathers Jeffery vocational school in Jackson, Tennessee where Weathers was a flight instructor. He was also the Director of Boone-Higgins Trade School for Negro Veterans in Jackson. They also operated a beauty shop, Laundromat/dry cleaners and a carpet cleaning service. In 1959, Weathers founded The National Defense Cadet Corps, NDCC, for the Memphis City School System at Manassas High school. This program created an opportunity for African American males who had a desire for military training but did not have access to a ROTC program. For a brief time afterwards, Weathers moved his family to Anchorage, Alaska where he had accepted a position with the Federal Aviation Administration, FAA. He moved his family back to Memphis and became the first African-American Air Traffic Controller in Memphis. During his tenure with the FAA, he accepted tours of duties in Atlanta, Georgia and Washington, DC.

In 1985, Lt. Col. Weathers retired from the FAA in Washington, DC and the Air Force Reserves. In his retirement he stayed active with Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. and continued to promote African Americans in the military including women. Lt. Col. Luke Joseph Weathers Jr. died on October 15, 2011 at 90 years of age. He is survived by his wife, Jacqueline Moore Weathers; two sons, Luke Joseph Weathers III and Andre M. Weathers; daughters Wanda Weathers Smith, Renee Weathers Powell, and Trina Weathers Boyce; and 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Mister Speaker, I ask my colleagues to join me in honoring the life of Tuskegee Airman, Lt. Col. Luke Joseph Weathers, Jr. His was a life well-lived.