George Washington Biggs, a member of the famous all-black Tuskegee Airmen, passed away on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020.
The Arizona Republic reported Biggs joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, the predecessor of the U.S. Air Force, in 1943 after turning 18 and learned to fly and maintain aircraft and eventually fly in combat with the Tuskegee Airmen. Biggs went on to serve in World War II, The Korean War and the Vietnam War.
According to his daughter, Rose Biggs-Dickerson, Biggs attempted to join the military two years earlier in 1941 when he was just 16, but was denied. She said Biggs persisted in his efforts to join the military and requested a position that would allow him to see combat rather than serving in a support role.
Biggs-Dickerson told the Arizona Republic that her father never saw himself as a hero, but as a soldier with a sense of duty to his orders.
“He was very humble,” she said. “He did not want to be considered a hero because — in the air — they did what they were supposed to do. So there was no heroism in what they did when they served.”
Despite their service, Biggs-Dickerson said her father and the Tuskegee Airmen he served with struggled with discrimination during the war and for years after.
Biggs-Dickerson said, “The airmen will tell you that they were made to be in the back of the ship and the soldiers from the — I don’t know if it was the German soldiers or the Japanese soldiers — had more rights than them and were allowed to be in certain parts (of the ship) where they were not allowed because they were African American.”
Biggs reportedly struggled to find work after World War II and chose instead to reenlist as a non-commissioned officer and then as an officer. Biggs was stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz. in the 1950s as one of the first black officers. There, he participated in the effort to integrate minority service members.
Biggs continued to serve, flying B-47 and B-52 bombers in the Korean and Vietnam wars and earning numerous military honors.
According to Biggs-Dickerson, Biggs still faced discrimination despite his service and other pilots would say they didn’t want him as a navigator due to his skin color and would even ignore his warnings on occasions when they flew over enemy territory.
Biggs retired from the military in the 1970s. He went on to be recognized for his service in 2007 when he and other Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal — the highest civilian recognition given by Congress. At the time, then-President George W. Bush saluted the airmen.
“And it was the first time they had been saluted to. And these airmen were just touched,” Bigg’s-Dickerson said. “They were touched because they realized that they finally got the respect that they deserved.”
According to an obituary by Martinez Funeral Chapels in Nogales, Ariz., Biggs’ funeral is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 24.
Biggs is survived by his wife, 10 children, 22 grandchildren, and 24 great-grandchildren.