What a life, what a man, what a legacy. Our hero passed away in November of 2015. I met Dr. Crenchaw through an introduction by Willie Smith and Edmond Davis as a result of a Radio Show, Educational Perspectives, that I founded and was hosting on 88.3 KABF Community Radio in Little Rock. We laid out a plan to interview Dr. Crenchaw and as many of the living original Tuskegee Airmen as we could schedule for radio phone interviews over a six-week period. These were 1 hour shows that two instances included Dr. Crenchaw interacting with fellow Tuskegee Airmen, Dr. Roscoe Draper, Jerry Hodges, and a few others. Dr. Crenchaw was one of the warmest and most engaging individuals I had ever met. He was so brilliant and had a great interview! Even in his late 80’s his mind and memory were as sharp as a whip. From the moment we sat down in the studio, I knew I was in the presence of royalty- a great man was in the studio.
During the two interviews I conducted with him in the studio, we covered everything from his early years growing up and going to Dunbar High School and on to Philander Smith College. We then talked about his road to becoming one of the famed original documented Tuskegee Airmen. He shared the story about Eleanor Roosevelt and her visit to Tuskegee University where he strapped her in a P-51 Airplane to take a flight at Moton Field in Tuskegee Alabama. His face lit up with a smile big enough to fill a room as he recited history for all of our listeners, many of who probably did not know that we had this living legend right in Little Rock. For a number of years, it seemed that many had forgotten about Dr. Crenchaw and the fact that he was from Little Rock and his contributions not only to the Tuskegee Airmen but also in developing a program to train young people in the field of aviation at Philander Smith College from 1947-1953, the first successful flight program at the college.
After we finished the interviews, I followed up with Dr. Crenchaw through meetings arranged by Edmond Davis at Baptist College and also attended a number of events at which he was speaking at including the Central High School Museum. Dr. Crenchaw was now being sought after to speak two to three times a day and was busier than most young people I know. Gracious with his time and always smiling, he had a positive word for anyone that he met. On another occasion, I had the distinct honor of escorting Dr. Crenchaw to the ceremony to officially name the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock. There were dignitaries from all over in attendance with security befitting the President (Secret Service) and seating for special guests. I was afforded a rare treat along with two guests who had come in from Memphis with me. It was the coldest day in May on record for Little Rock, near freezing. Upon arrival to the location for the event, we were all escorted to the front row, very near to the stage and podium where both President Bill Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton were to speak.
I sat next to Dr. Crenchaw while our guests were escorted to other seats in the VIP section. I actually was living in Florida at the time and had come home just for this event. However, I did not know when I first made plans that I would be escorting Dr. Crenchaw and spending the entire day with him- what an honor! It was only after Edmond couldn’t make it, due to a surgery he had to have performed that day, that the honor of escorting him fell in my lap. A funny thing happened once everyone had spoken and after President Clinton and Secretary Clinton had given their speeches. The first person’s hand that President Bill Clinton shook was Dr. Milton P. Crenchaw’s. Because I was with him, the three of us took a picture together with President Clinton slightly above us on the stage. That is what hanging out with royalty will do for you. We spent the entire day together and I can think of no other person I know who had the presence and impact upon a room like Dr. Crenchaw. He owned the room it seemed. Every step we took, someone wanted a picture and a handshake or a kiss J. He was truly a star and one who took it in stride with humility and grace.
As time went on, Willie Smith brought together a group of us to found the Milton Pitts Crenchaw Aviation Training Academy and Dr. Crenchaw was so proud and happy about it. He became a Lifetime Honorary Board Member. He was very active in supporting our effort to reach young people and point them towards careers in aviation and aerospace professions. He stayed engaged with the organization right up until he passed away. Even giving us a quote three weeks before passing away, that we now use in all of our various outreach efforts.
Dr. Milton P. Crenchaw left an indelible mark on the world that is hard to fathom given the challenges and circumstances he faced early on in life. I speak not just about, his groundbreaking work accomplished as a documented original Tuskegee Airmen and Flight Instructor, but also His combined service record extended over forty years of federal service from 1941 to 1983 with the U.S. Army Air Corps and later the U.S. Air Force. He was excellence personified, our hero, and a lover of people- especially children. He always had time to speak to young people, encourage and motivate them. He was the star attraction at every banquet we held in his honor over the past 4 years and knew how to light up the room. He knew how to make every woman feel special- this was one of his many gifts. I am deeply honored to have known this giant of a man and to be the founding President of the Milton Pitts Crenchaw Aviation Training Academy.
The Board of the Milton P. Crencahw Aviation Training Academy pledges to carry forward and extend the legacy of Dr. Milton P. Crenchaw- we can think of no greater way to honor his legacy than to help young people pursue their dreams to become aviation or aerospace professionals. To quote Dr. Crenchaw, “Proper education and exposure to the world of Aviation will ensure, for our youth, the attainment of careers in the field of aero sciences and aeronautics. We must feed that hunger for experiences well above the norm”.