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100-year-old Tuskegee Airman found dead in his Harlem home

Wilfred DeFour, Tuskegee Airman, poses with service men and women during the Transit Veterans Recognition Day ceremony at 2 Broadway, November 1, 2013. (Patrick Cashin/Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York)
December 12, 2018
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A 100-year-old Tuskegee Airmen member was found dead in his Harlem home on Saturday.

According to New York police, a home health aide placed the 911 call, and when police arrived on the scene, they found Wilfred DeFour unconscious and unresponsive on his bathroom floor, CNN reported.

Police said there was no evidence of trauma. An autopsy has been scheduled, but police believe DeFour died of natural causes.

DeFour was part of the all-black squadron of World War II pilots that encouraged African-Americans throughout the U.S., according to the New York Daily News.

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They were the first U.S. military aviators of African-American heritage, and gained their moniker from their training at the Tuskegee Army Airfield in Macon County, Alabama, according to Nola.com.

In all, there were around 20,000 men that were part of the “Tuskegee experience.”

The squadron was dubbed the “Red Tails,” after DeFour, an aircraft technician, painted the tails of the plane red. Documentaries and films have detailed the history of both the Red Tails and the Tuskegee Airmen.

DeFour’s wife passed away in 2005. They also had two children, a son and a daughter, however, the son passed away years ago.

Naomi Crawford, 92, recalled moving into the Riverton Square apartments back in the 1940s, which is also when DeFour and his wife moved in.

“He received two plaques on Friday from the senior center. One for turning 100,” said Crawford.

Another neighbor, Joanne Wells said, “You would never know he was 100. He had a little cane, but he walked. He had all his faculties. His mind was as sharp as a whip.”

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Wells said she never heard him talk about his service with the Tuskegee Airmen.

After completing his military service as an aircraft technician, DeFour joined the U.S. post office and worked there for over 30 years.

In November, DeFour was honored by a Harlem post office that was renamed the Tuskegee Airmen Post Office Building.

“We didn’t know we were making history at the time. We were just doing our job,” DeFour said at the renaming ceremony.

He added, “I regret so many of my comrades are no longer here with us. It will mean there’s recognition for Tuskegee Airmen and that’s very important.”

Rep. Adriano Espaillat rallied to get the post office to change the name. After the news of DeFour’s death, Espaillat said DeFour is “a Harlem legend”

He said in a tweet, “The impact he had on our community, around the nation, and the world will forever be cherished and remembered.”

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