Saturday, November 14, 2009

7246: Tuskegee Airman On The Air.

From The Chicago Sun-Times…

Tuskegee Airman lands on the South Side
WWII | Shelby Westbrook’s famed unit will be featured in a 5-part History Channel series starting Sunday night

By Stefano Esposito, Staff Reporter

Shelby Westbrook—a decorated fighter pilot who flew 60 missions over Europe during World War II—went to get a passport the other day. He was turned down for lack of the proper paperwork.

As the 87-year-old South Sider tells it, the “young man” at the post office said Westbrook’s 1945 military papers weren’t proof he’s a U.S. citizen.

Westbrook isn’t just an American citizen. He was part of the famed African-American unit, the Tuskegee Airmen. And the small part he played in history is about to be told in the History Channel’s five-night series “WWII in HD,” which airs Sunday through Thursday.

Westbrook—who grew up in Arkansas and Ohio but has lived in Chicago since the war—is one of 12 Americans featured in the series, which tells the story of the war through their eyes.

He flew P-51 Mustang fighters out of Italy. On one mission, he was forced to belly-land his fighter in a Croatian field after being hit by enemy fire while returning to Italy from a bombing mission over Germany.

“It was just like taking a sled ride,” Westbrook recalled in an interview.

He walked away from the destroyed airplane and later encountered soldiers loyal to Yugoslavian resistance leader Marshal Tito who handed him over to British intelligence officers including Randolph Churchill, the only son of Winston Churchill, and writer Evelyn Waugh.

The soldiers couldn’t possibly have mistaken him for the enemy, Westbrook said: “They knew there were no black Germans.”

Some of his missions took him to the 2,500-year-old Parthenon.

“It was impressive, but my wingman and I used it as protection from anti-aircraft fire,” he said. “The Parthenon sits on a plateau, and right beside that was an airfield. We strafed that airfield two or three times to slow the German evacuation out of Greece.”

Six decades later, Westbrook seems underwhelmed about his inclusion in a TV documentary that the History Channel boasts will show the war “as it has never been seen before.” For one thing, Westbrook isn’t thrilled at the choice of rap star/Hollywood actor LL Cool J to narrate his story. Scott Reda, one of the series’ producers, said the hope is to attract a younger demographic.

“I disapproved of that because I don’t like rap—I like good American jazz music,” Westbrook said.

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