A central Ohio man has spent a good part of his life studying the history of the Tuskegee Airmen and a series events in the waning days of World War II that led to the eventual desegregation of the U.S. military.

Phillip Tibbs’ knowledge of the famed African-American airmen and the incident that became known as “The Freeman Field Mutiny” can be heard in his voice.

There’s a good reason why he’s confident enough on the subject that he even takes the time to present lectures about it.

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The 56-year-old’s father, Cpl. Howard Arthur Tibbs, trained at Freeman Field with the 477th Bombardment Group in early 1945.

While not one of the 120 officers arrested at one point April 4 or 5 in 1945 for attempting to enter a white officers club or for refusing to sign a document acknowledging separate facilities for African-Americans, Cpl. Tibbs was an eyewitness to the events that occurred.

One hundred four of the arrested officers were flown to Godman Army Airfield in Kentucky, where they were confined in a building with barbed-wire fencing around it and armed guards outside. At the same time, German officers who were prisoners of war were being held at Godman and were not under guard.

Three men accused of using force were court-martialed, and 104 received letters of reprimand.

Following a trial in the summer of 1945, two of the court-martialed men were acquitted. Second Lt. Roger “Bill” Terry was the only officer convicted of any crime in connection with the incident. He was fined $150, suffered a loss of rank and given a dishonorable discharge for jostling an officer. In 1995, the letters of reprimand were removed from the files of the all of the officers involved, and Terry received a full pardon.

The incident was instrumental in President Harry Truman issuing Executive Order 991, which directed the desegregation of the U.S. military, in July 1948.

Tibbs, who recently visited the Freeman Army Airfield Museum in Seymour with some of the other children of Tuskegee Airmen, said his father rarely talked about that particular time in his life.

Cpl. Tibbs initially had wanted to be a pilot, but he washed out during training, not because his scores were bad or he wasn’t good enough, his son said.

The unfortunate reality of segregation was they weren’t going to retain or commission as many African-American pilots as they could have, he said.

His father, however, went on to receive technical training in schools in Denver, Colorado. He learned about photography, aerial reconnaissance and intelligence and was eventually assigned to Freeman Field and the 477th, which was a part of the 97th fighter pursuit squadron.

“All they were doing was training, training, training south of here in Godman, Kentucky, next to Fort Knox,” Tibbs said.

The 477th never made it into action during the war, although other units of Tuskegee Airmen did.

While in Seymour and at Godman, Tibbs said his father took and developed aerial photos of southern Indiana and Kentucky. He also witnessed the mutiny and discrimination of his own.

“He didn’t really say that much about it because there was a point like this is painful memories,” Tibbs said.

Tibbs said his father, who passed away in 1986, kept a scrapbook of photographs he developed here and documented his time in the military.

Tibbs does have letters his father wrote home to his parents. Those letters spoke to the racial injustice the Tuskegee Airmen faced.

This excerpt of one of Arthur Tibbs’ letters comes from “War Letters.”

“It is a pity, though, that we are supposed to be defending the welfare of the country and yet it really amounts to upholding just the injustices which contradict all that we are supposedly here to destroy in this war effort. At times, it is certainly ironic and makes one feel utterly disgusted. …,” he wrote to his mother, Emma Howard Tibbs, who lived in Salem, Ohio. Cpl. Tibb’s father was Roy Tibbs.

“You Mother, nor I, nor my children, if I am fortunate to have any, shall not see cooperation, but I’m firm in my belief that one generation will see it when another generation decides that race will no longer be cause and cause alone for all this pure stupidity.”

Tibbs said he was able to pick up a lot information about his father’s days with the Tuskegee Airmen and at Freeman Field from a scrapbook he put together from 1943 to 1946 that included aerial photos he developed that had been taken at Seymour or Godman at the time.

That also included photographs and information about USO shows, where he played the tenor saxophone while stationed in Seymour. The collection included photographs he had taken with Nat Cole, Duke Ellington, Lena Horn, Ella Fitzgerald, the Mills Brothers and other groups he met when they visited Seymour on USO tours.

Tibbs was joined on his visit to the museum by several other children of Tuskegee Airmen, including Christina Lawrence of New York City, Rodney Gillead of Oakland, California, and James Warren Jr. of Chicago.

All had been in Indianapolis for the Tuskegee Airmen national convention that ran from July 14 to 16.

Lawrence, the daughter of Lt. Col. Clayton Lawrence, said her dad talked little about the war and what happened at Freeman Field until he joined the Tuskegee Airmen’s association in the 1980s.

Her father, who died in September 2014 in Queens, New York, was a navigator and bombardier with the 477th.

Gillead said his father, LeRoy Gillead, talked about The Freeman Field Mutiny his entire life.

“He was one of 101 who refused to sign the paper and was arrested,” Gillead said. “As I tell people, this is the incident that turned him into a ‘freedom fighter’ the rest of his life.”

Gillead said his father mentioned one time that he didn’t know he was taking on the establishment of the U.S. military at the time of the incident.

“It took us awhile, but we won,” he said. “I guess it was 1995 when they tried to exonerate them, but as he always said, ‘As an officer and a gentlemen in the Air Force, I had every right to go into that club.’”

Gillead said many of the Tuskegee Airmen always talked about the “double victory.”

“Victory against fascism in Europe and Jim Crow-ism in America,” he said.

Warren said his father, James Warren Sr., often talked about his time at Freeman Field. He also wrote a book about the mutiny, “The Tuskegee Airmen Mutiny at Freeman Field.”

Warren said the mutiny actually was the first civil rights movement against a major U.S. entity in the 20th century.

“If they had done this during the Civil War, they would have all been hung,” he said.

Although most of the Tuskegee Airmen are gone now, Warren said it’s important to keep their legacy alive, and museums such as the one at Freeman Field and two monuments to the Tuskegee Airmen there help do just that.

David Cunningham and Chauncey E. Spencer also made the trip to Freeman Field, although their interests don’t run as deep as the others.

Cunningham is president of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen.

“Several of our members were pilots and navigators and crew people and supportive of the 477th,” he said.

And he had a couple of other good reasons to want to visit the museum. His dad was a Tuskegee Airman, and he also was from New London near Kokomo, Cunningham said.

“He was a liaison pilot forward observation for the artillery,” Cunningham said. “He stayed Regular Army and didn’t join the U.S. Army Air Corps.”

The U.S. Army Air Corps was the forerunner of the U.S. Air Force.

Spencer’s father, Chauncey Edward Spencer, was an aerospace pioneer who died in 2002.

In {span class=”libtext”}May 1939, he and fellow aviator Dale Lawrence White flew a rented biplane with only two flight instruments on a 10-city tour that ended in Washington, D.C. Their goal was to demonstrate the aviation abilities of African-Americans and to lobby Congress for inclusion in the Civilian Pilot Training Program for the Army Air Corps.{/span}

While in Washington, D.C., they met with Truman and others in Congress, convincing them to support their cause. During the war, Spencer served as a race relations hearing officer for the U.S. Army.

Aubrey Woods is editor of The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at awoods@tribtown.com or 812-523-7051.