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NPS-Morristown National Historical Park: In the Presence of History


Bureau: National Park Service


  Black-and-white photo of a group of Tuskegee airmen 
  This photo of Tuskegee airmen receiving an air brief appears on the National Park Service's website for Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.

On Saturday, Oct. 19, shortly before the Washington's Headquarters Museum closed at Morristown National Historical Park, a “celebrity” entered the building. Park ranger Kevin Hanley was standing at the museum’s front desk when he noticed one particular visitor’s outfit. “He was an older gentleman, who wore a red, baseball cap, with ‘Air Force’ on the front, and a fading brown, leather jacket,” recalled Hanley. “The jacket bore a name tag, with the words ‘Lt. Col. L. Gray - Retired.’ It wasn't until he turned around that I saw what was emblazoned on the back of his jacket: Tuskegee Airman!” 

Hanley introduced himself to Gray, and struck up a conversation. When Hanley asked about his visit, Gray told him that he and his family were en-route to Boston, Mass., from his home in Florida. Gray said proudly, “In just a few days, I’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame at my old high school.” After graduating from English High School, the oldest high school in America dating back to 1821, Gray enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and, of course, went through much trial and tribulation before having his role in history. 

Hanley was soon joined by law enforcement ranger Peter Leon, who settled right in, listening to Gray’s stories. “Lieutenant Colonel Gray went on to regale us with tales of actual combat against the Luftwaffe, especially his unit's encounters with the German ME-262 jet aircraft," Leon said. "He did note, with great pride and a wry smile, that whereas other pilots downed these jets taking off and landing from their airfields (the easy way as he put it) his unit, the 332nd Fighter Group (Red Tails), got their jets at 27,000 feet!” 

In his conversation with Hanley and Leon, Gray mentioned that on Veteran's Day, Nov. 11, 2013, in Orlando, Fla., the first national monument to the Red Tail Fighter Pilots will be dedicated. Gray lamented there are only 34 members still alive, and that the youngest member is 88 and the oldest is 98. 

As he departed, Hanley and Leon wished him a safe journey and thanked him for his service. Hanley recapped his awe-inspiring moment with, “It was something to experience. Pete and I were just amazed, with mouths agape. It was almost as if George Washington himself had walked in the door.”

By: Lori Diaz, NPS
Nov. 7, 2013


This story by Lorin Diaz, NPS, appears in the Nov. 6 edition of InsideNPS.