George W. Porter, an American patriot who fought for his country in World War II while battling racism at home as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, died Saturday at 91.
Mr. Porter spent 23 years in the Army Air Forces and the Air Force, starting as a mechanic in the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African Americans allowed to train to fly and support combat planes. He devoted the rest of his life to telling the story of the heroes who broke down racial barriers in the military and opened a door to a better future for all Americans.
He entered the service in 1942 and was a crew chief for P-40 and AT-10 planes at an Army airfield in Tuskegee, Ala. Because he was one of the top mechanics, he was chosen to train others and remained stateside during the war. He became a squadron inspector and a B-25 flight engineer.
Despite obstacles of segregation and racism, the Tuskegee Airmen pilots and support crews compiled an impressive record of 15,000 sorties, including 150 enemy planes shot down and 250 destroyed on the ground. Nevertheless, African Americans in the military often struggled to receive the respect they deserved after the war, Mr. Porter recalled in 2007.
"In 1949 I was a tech sergeant, and they wanted me to wash airplanes," he told The Bee. "I said, 'A tech sergeant doesn't wash airplanes.' They gave me another assignment."
Mr. Porter went on to serve at bases in the United States, Canada, Japan, Spain and Vietnam and retired as a chief master sergeant in 1965 at Mather Air Force Base. He spent 20 years as a civilian worker at McClellan Air Force Base and was a logistics management officer for Aerojet before retiring in 1987.
Meanwhile, he inspired younger generations with the story of how the Tuskegee Airmen shaped American history. He described how African Americans in the military overcame challenges to serve and set their country on a path toward equality for all – years before Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights icons joined the journey.
As a member of a dwindling "living history team" of original Tuskegee Airmen, he traveled and spoke to many schools, churches and civic groups. Along with others, he served as an adviser for the 2012 George Lucas film about the squadron, "Red Tails."
"He was always ready to go and share his story," said Edith Roberts, widow of Col. George "Spanky" Roberts of the Tuskegee Airman. "He leaves a big void."
Born in 1921, Mr. Porter grew up as a star athlete in Slidell, La. He played quarterback in football and played basketball as a 6-foot-4 center.
He had a daughter with his wife of 53 years, Pauline, a teacher, who died in 2002. He was a 32nd degree Mason and belonged to Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He held many leadership positions as a longtime member of St. Andrews AME Church in Sacramento.
Proud of his military service, Mr. Porter flew a large American flag outside his Sacramento home. He didn't falter when a Bee reporter asked why someone raised under oppression in the segregated South would risk his life for the country. "It's my country, too," he said.