The Jim I knew was an Exakta collector with a great interest in the history and mechanical development of Ihagee cameras. Various articles of his were published by most of the known Exakta clubs. Additionally, he was a specialist in oddities, freaks and rarities. His knowledge of pre-war serial numbers was virtually unequaled. I think he's the only guy who could name 15 variations of 50mm Tessar without looking at his notes. ;-)
Over the past few years I got to know Jim better. Below are some of the things Jim told me about himself...
As a teenager in WWII, Jim landed at Utah beach on D-Day, ran fuel transports through Normandy as a member of the "Red Ball Express" and participated in the Battle of the Bulge. In the Asian theater, he was part of a B-17 reconnaisance team in the Phillipines. Jim was African-American and during WWII blacks weren't fighting just the Nazi's - they had to fight racism within their own military! Later he became a member of the 332nd Airborn, the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen were a black-only air force division with the task of escorting and protecting B-17's as they made long runs from Italy to Berlin. Funny thing about these supposedly inferior, segregated black guys; they had the best defensive record of WWII and didn't lose a single bomber to the Luftwaffe! It seems other American pilots would get excited when an enemy plane got near and they'd quickly give chase, leaving the bomber's undefended. At Jim's funeral, I had the opportunity of meeting several of the surviving Tuskegee airmen and they are truly an amazing group of gentlemen. Many of them volunteered to fight for a country that treated them like subhumans. Because of the great accomplishments of the Tuskegee airmen, the US military began integrating black and white forces after WWII. This was one of the most important steps forward in black civil rights. After the military had integrated, it was only a matter of time before American society began to do the same.
Civil Rights and History of Racism
Jim was also a specialist in the history of Africans in the United States. When he wasn't playing with Exakta's, Jim was frequently giving tours at the Detroit Tuskegee Airmen Museum or on the road traveling to schools and different cities to give speeches on civil rights and black history. He was able to point out many interesting discrepancies between 'white public school history' and what really happened. It is shocking that many of us were schooled learning 'the white version of truth' and will probably never know anything different. I encourage anyone to do some in-depth reading on black history - it is very interesting and can lead you to a different level of thinking!
Notes from the Funeral
I was honored to attend Jim's funeral and pin an enamel Exakta button on his lapel. Jim would have liked that. :-) An ex-Kansas senator had known Jim since 1931 and related some funny tales about 7-year old Jim. All of the Detroit area Tuskegee airmen showed up to honor their fallen member. There were many speakers who conveyed that Jim was far more than a simple camera collector. He helped make history in America and did his very best to educate the public and help others in need.
Accomplishments from the Obituary
World War II Victory Ribbon, Three Bronze Stars, EAME Theater Ribbon, Philippine Liberation Ribbon
Chrysler Institue of Engineering, University of Detroit, University of Michigan
Former Partner of Aero Service, Inc. - Michigan's only black-owned FAA approved flight school.
Owner of Triangle Aviation, Inc. - another black-owned FAA approved flight school.
City of Detroit Vehicle Management - Jim trained the first women auto mechanics!
Commercial Pilots License
President of the Detroit Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.
Board of Governors of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Museum
Member of the Black Pilots of America, Inc.
Senior Supervisor of Mechanical Maintenance for the City of Detroit
Board Member of the Michigan Photographic Historical Society
Golden Heritage Life Member of the NAACP