Described as a “silent warrior” by his friends and family, Hilton Carter’s exploits as a military veteran, pioneering Tuskegee Airman and public servant were matched, and perhaps surpassed, by his legacy as a father, grandfather, husband and friend.
A small group of relatives gathered Wednesday at an East Side funeral home to remember Carter, who died May 6 at age 91. But the entire city of Columbus was witness to a military flyover and procession of cars to Carter’s final stop at St. Joseph Cemetery just south of Columbus along Route 23, not far from Rickenbacker Airport.
Willie Keaton, Carter’s brother-in-law, recalled a loving, caring man who cherished his family and also had a fun side.
“He was quiet, reserved. When he spoke there was no misunderstanding,” Keaton said.
Keaton called his sister Odessa’s husband a silent warrior “who did not talk his game, but let his actions lead.”
As a teenager, Carter flew in the Pacific Theater during World War II before he became an original member of the Tuskegee Airmen, a famed group of black fighter pilots. There are only two now living in Columbus.
After the war ended, he stayed in Columbus and held various posts in city and county government and was an active Democrat.
Carter faced obstacles, but remained committed to justice, Keaton said.
“With all the racism he had to overcome, he did not let that overcome him. He set out to change things and make life better for his family.”
Columbus became home for Carter in 1948 when he received a transfer to what was then Lockbourne Air Force Base, now known as Rickenbacker Airport.
After leaving the Air Force in 1949, he continued to serve as a civilian flight engineer. He married his wife, Odessa, and the couple moved to Los Angeles for a time before returning to Columbus.
Carter became a committeeman for the Democratic Party in Columbus and on the party’s Franklin County central committee. He worked as deputy treasurer, treasurer and deputy auditor for the city of Columbus and as an assistant deputy auditor in the Ohio auditor’s office.
Carter was a longtime member of St. Dominic Catholic Church. The Rev. Ramon Owera told a gathering earlier at Marlan J. Gary Funeral Home, 5456 Livingston Ave., that Carter lived a “long and fulfilling and very successful life.”
Keaton recalled Carter’s mischievous side, including a love of gambling and building his own craps table, and how he’d gather friend to attend prayer breakfasts.
Like many of his generation, he also was frugal, placing spare change inside a “guru” statue at his home, so that his children and grandchildren could learn the importance of saving.
As an honor guard sounded a three-volley salute, a military flag was carefully folded and presented to Odessa Carter. Taps was played. Keaton walked away, tears visible above his face mask.
“It’s very moving that Columbus came out and gave him that kind of respect,” he said.
He is survived by Odessa; a daughter, Paula (Dylan) Barrett; a daughter-in law, Beverly Carter; four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son, Richard Carter, and a brother, Daniel.
© 2020 The Columbus Dispatch
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This article — originally published by The Columbus Dispatch — has been updated to clarify Hilton Carter flew in the Pacific Theater before joining the Tuskegee Airmen, and not with any Tuskegee unit.