James Otis Handy
James Otis Handy

Service Record

1940-1945 • Enlisted • Army Air Forces/Corps • 99th Fighter Squadron • Africa; Italy • Staff Sergeant

Transcript

Thomas Healy:
Okay. So we’re going to start now. When I ask you a question, you’re going to sort of repeat the question because nobody’s going to hear me on this side. So in other words, when I say, What were you doing prior to the war, you would say, Before the war I was, you know, so that people know what you’re actually going to say the next —

James Handy:
Correct.

Thomas Healy:
— ’cause — so when I ask you these questions, you’re not going to hear me; the only thing they’re going to hear is you, and so that’s why you have to sort of repeat the question. Now, the first time, you know, because you’re going to just give me your name — name — give me your name —

James Handy:
Where I come from?

Thomas Healy:
Yeah, where you come from, and where you’re living now, you know, the name of the town you’re living now. So, any time.

James Handy:
Okey-doke.

Thomas Healy:
Go ahead.

James Handy:
I am James Otis Handy. And I live in Hollyville (ph) Road out in the country, beautiful place, quiet, birds, rabbits, deers, few dogs, so the environment is very healthy, very nice. I think it’s good for longevity because I’m 85 and still going strong. Couldn’t ask for any more.

Thomas Healy:
Okay. Where did you grow up?

James Handy:
I grew up in Salisbury, Maryland. I really lived four miles and four tenths from Salisbury. The road I grew up on was called Spring Hill Road. Now it’s called Ocean Gateway. Nice place. I went to school in Salisbury High School, elementary at Rockawaukee(ph) and from there, I graduated from high school, went to Tuskegee, Tuskegee, it was called Tuskegee Institute then. Now it’s Tuskegee University, but when I was there, it was Tuskegee Institute. That’s where my father sent me. He wanted me to be a farm demonstration agent, because he saw one — the man came to our farm to tell us how to run the farm and told us the different fertilizers that we had to use, and he told us to not plant the same crop over and over and over, but to change around — and my father thought that was wonderful. So he sent me to Tuskegee to learn that. And while I was at Tuskegee, my sophomore year, the Federal Government stated that we would have my people in the Air Force, Army Air Force to fly planes. However, if you flash back, up until that date, we did not have any of my people in the armed forces flying airplanes. So this was a great test. And the wordology of that time was that my people would not be able to fly a plane, we did not have that much sense at that time. However, you got to realize during the periods of time the wordology [skip in audio] according to what is best for the majority of the people that’s making the statement. And the people making the statement said that we didn’t have it in us to fly, we didn’t have that dexterity to fly. And so, therefore, we chose the best of all our youngsters because we wanted to be 100 percent very good; not just good, but very good. And covering a lot of ground, we are now at Tuskegee Institute, and we’re studying the positions that we want to be in; for instance, I was an aeronautical technical engineer, which simply is an airplane mechanic. I like to use those big words once in a while, but that’s all it is, airplane mechanic. You see, if I was in school and I told them I was an airplane mechanic, some of the football players and track players would come along and say, “Good morning, Mr. Monkey, where’s your grease?” or, “Good morning, Grease, did you bring your monkey with you?” So I wouldn’t tell them. I just told them I was an aeronautical technical engineer, and I knew they were too lazy to look it up. And I got away with it for a long time. However, they did find out and said, “You been keeping secrets from us.” I said, “No, I didn’t keep any secret. I told you what it was, aeronautical technical engineer. You just didn’t look it up.” And quite naturally from that day on, I was in the spotlight, because it was a rarity that you overcome the concepts of individuals that say that you are not able to perform as well as the rest of human society. That’s a stigma you do want to overcome. That’s a stigma that you don’t want to be placed on you.

Thomas Healy:
Now, did you feel that then?

James Handy:
Of course, that’s why —

Thomas Healy:
Tell me how you felt about that then. You know, it’s like, Playa (ph) made a statement that he didn’t really think anything about it, he just happened to be there, and it really — you know, looking back, he could understand it. Now, you were born in Maryland?

James Handy:
Correct.

Thomas Healy:
Okay. So how — Was it tough growing up black where you were, or were you far enough out of the regular, general population where you were just farmers; or what — did you feel that separation?

James Handy:
Well, my father taught us — I have another brother and two sisters. There’s four of us. He taught us things like this: You have to have laws. If you do not have law, the strong will take it away from the weak, the wise will take it away from the strong, the cunning will take it away from the wise, and the killers will take it away from us all. So we have to have laws. If you break the law, expect to pay the penalty. And such situations as that led us down the highway, if you please, in life to respect the law. He also said if the law infringes upon you as an individual, it is up to you to make that law null and void. Not to have a disturbance, not to confront the authorities, but to confront the people that change the law.

Thomas Healy:
So what did your dad — How did your dad grow up?

James Handy:
My dad went to ninth grade and he became a bricklayer, farmer, businessman. When he died, he was a farmer and businessman. He owned quite a few rental homes and he farmed large acres of land.

Thomas Healy:
Was this in Maryland? Did he stay in Maryland?

James Handy:
This is in Maryland.

Thomas Healy:
Is that where he did his brick laying?

James Handy:
In Salisbury, outside of Salisbury.

Thomas Healy:
He did his bricklaying down there, too?

James Handy:
In Salisbury.

Thomas Healy:
Uh-huh. Now, what did your mom do? Did she — Was she a mom mom?

James Handy:
My mother was a seamstress.

Thomas Healy:
Okay.

James Handy:
She made — I know you’re going to laugh when I say this, but she made most of our sisters’ clothes out of flour bags that had beautiful colors in them, and they would take these — She was not the only one. They would take these flour bags and make clothing for our sisters, and she stayed home. She didn’t go out and work.

Thomas Healy:
Now, when — were you working the farm then —

James Handy:
No.

Thomas Healy:
— growing up?

James Handy:
I was living in Salisbury then when she was doing that. Now, my mother died when she was 38. And after 38, we moved to the farm. Before she died, we were in the city of Salisbury. No, she died. We moved there on his father’s farm, my father’s father’s farm. That’s where we grew up, as little farmers.

Thomas Healy:
Now, did you feel any racial tension then?

James Handy:
If you have any intelligence at all, you see and you don’t see; you hear and you don’t hear; you know what’s going on, but if you wrap yourself into the detrimentalness of that, it will affect you. But if you can see it and not see it, hear it and not hear it, you have a better chance of accomplishing something worthwhile.

Thomas Healy:
All right. Let’s — Tell me about how many — You had one brother and two sisters?

James Handy:
One brother and two sisters.

Thomas Healy:
Now, that December of — December the 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day —

James Handy:
Correct.

Thomas Healy:
— do you remember that day and where were you?

James Handy:
That day — I was at Tuskegee going to school, but that day I was in Montgomery, Alabama. There was a lovely, lovely, lovely, young lady there, that I was walking down the street with, and we heard it. And I had to get back to school. I married that young lady. However, she passed in 1960. An anesthesiologist made an error in his judgment and caused her death. In 1960, she was principal of elementary school and we had one son. He was three years old when she passed.

Thomas Healy:
Was your son still around here?

James Handy:
He is in Texas. My son is — has a brilliant mind. He’s smarter than I am, thank the Lord, took after his mother. And he’s in Texas. He’s an accountant, engineer, you name it, he is it. He has a very good job, and he has one son. He has made me also a great-grandfather, a young daughter, and thank the Lord that she is smart like her grandfather and not like her great — great-grandfather.

Thomas Healy:
Let’s see, what was your thought process then when you heard about Pearl Harbor? I mean, when you went back, was there a lot of talk or what was going on?

James Handy:
When we heard of Pearl Harbor, we knew then staying out of the war was over. The minute the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we that were in college realized, we’re going. We can no longer stay out of the war.

Thomas Healy:
Now, you were right there going to school; and is it right then, did they — is that — or was it a year or two later when they asked about you wanting to go — you were studying something else and you went into — You were going to school at the Tuskegee Institute already?

James Handy:
Correct.

Thomas Healy:
So you just stayed there — How did you go in? How did you guys finally —

James Handy:
Well, we were regular students, and when we heard about Pearl Harbor, we realized that Tuskegee also had ROTC. I was in ROTC; and had I stayed in ROTC two more years, I would have been an officer, but I would have been in the infantry. You know, infantry people, they have it hard on the ground. And when the opportunity came that they were going to give us a chance to fly the planes, that was my cue. However, I didn’t fly in the planes, because I told them I had a good excuse at that time, that I told them that when the Lord made us, he separated us without wings, fowl had the wings. And I said, I’m a highly Christian person. If you’re going to be a pursuit pilot, you got to be a cold-blooded killer, because if you don’t kill him, he’s going to kill you, and that’s against my religion. And I had another excuse, that even birds don’t fly at night. So the dean said, Well, Handy, you’re not going to get out of it. He said, We need mechanics. And I was hooked. Now, what that sounds like is that I was almost forced to go in. That was not the point. The point is they had given us an opportunity and they wanted people in the 99th that could make it, even though it wasn’t their calling, even though you didn’t want to be that at first, but you’re going to be that in order that you can dispel these statements that are being made that you cannot fly, you will not fly, and you don’t have the dexterity to do that. And we wanted to prove to those that had that concept that we could do anything that any other human could do, all we needed was the opportunity. And when they gave us the opportunity, we didn’t want any old Tom, John or Dick in there. What we wanted was some of the best. We wasn’t going to get all the best, but we wanted some of the best to prove that those statements that had been perpetuated so long were wrong.

Thomas Healy:
Hold on a second. So we were at Tuskegee, we’ve now signed up, you went in the service.

James Handy:
Correct.

Thomas Healy:
Right there?

James Handy:
Right there.

Thomas Healy:
Okay. So you basically went down, they swore you in, or whatever, you were studying as a mechanic. How did that work?

James Handy:
We were not sworn in at Tuskegee. We were sworn in at the air base at Montgomery, Alabama. You see, that was the Army post, see, where I was is college. And when they got all of us that wanted to go, then we went to — Let’s see, I was trying to think of the name — the day that we were going. It was on a Tuesday. We went over to Montgomery and signed up in the facilities they had for people to sign up in.

Thomas Healy:
So —

James Handy:
See, that was the Army base.

Thomas Healy:
Right. So you went —

James Handy:
There was a base.

Thomas Healy:
Now, is that where — So when you signed up, did you go back to the Institute?

James Handy:
Went back to the Institute.

Thomas Healy:
And then learned your mechanicals?

James Handy:
We went back to the Institute, you see, and then those that had signed up — I believe I’m ahead of myself. We had to take a test to see if we could get in first. See, we had to take this test over to Montgomery. And if you passed the test, you could go in, you would be in. And if you didn’t pass the test, they didn’t swear you in. So if you flunked the test, you were not in the service. But if you passed the test, you were in the service, you see. And passing tests had nothing to do with the position you wanted in the 99th, in the Air Force. We had to pass the test to be qualified to get into the service, in the Air Force, they gave us this test.

Thomas Healy:
Then if you did that, what happened? Tell me what you went — so when you came back _____+

James Handy:
Maxwell Field Air Force Base, that’s the name of it.

Thomas Healy:
And you became a mechanic?

James Handy:
No, no, no.

Thomas Healy:
Take me through that, to where —

James Handy:
Okay then.

Thomas Healy:
— you guys all squadroned up and then you moved on. Why don’t you just tell me that?

James Handy:
Okay. After we passed the test in Maxwell Field Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, we came back to Tuskegee Institute. And at that time we knew we were in the service, so we got our things together, and we had all our grades put on hold, and then they weeded you out according to what you wanted to participate in. It’s, like, I was chosen, to a certain extent, to get into the 99th; however, you had to qualify. You just didn’t walk right in. And my qualification there, then they said, What do you want to be? On the ground crew, see. And the ground crew, you made your choice, whether you want to work on the guns, the radio, and things of that sort. So I chose to work on the airplane itself, to be a crew chief for the whole plane. Then they sent those ground crew people to Chanute Field, Rantoul, Illinois. That’s the largest mechanical place that we have in the world to train Air Force people. So we took several courses, different courses.

Thomas Healy:
Was it segregated?

James Handy:
Yes and no.

Thomas Healy:
Okay.

James Handy:
Yes, when we got there; no, after we got there. And yes, after we got there; and no, after we got there. We had the skills to undergird that situation by removing the segregated materialistic things and mingling with those that had put it there. And quite naturally, that made that segregation wasn’t there at the time when we were there, but when we left, it reestablished itself. In other words, we went into the movies, they had a rope down there, the rope was moved and we sat down and saw the movie. That right there was not segregation. But before we got there, it was. We moved the rope. And then when we left — There was no disturbance. When we left, the rope was put back up there. And any sign that we had of disturbance like that, I never heard of it. For instance, they were long in asking us to come to chapel, church, if you please, and they were so long that we went out into the community and we found a church there that accepted us in Rantoul, Illinois. And there we joined the choir. We had group singing of our own. We raised a lot of money for that church. And when the Rantoul executives saw what was taking place, then they opened the doors of their chapel to us. Some decided to go, some did not go. And so you can see, without any fisticuffs, or what have you, we avoided that segregation without confronting it in a terrible way. In other words, we didn’t want violence, but we wasn’t running from violence. We were not going to institute any violence, but we were ready if the violence came. And so we live in barracks with ourselves. We march to the classes, which took 45 minutes one way to march to class. We marched home for lunch. We call it dinner now — we call it lunch now, but then it was dinner. And we still had supper, which we call dinner. But, anyway, we avoided those hurdles they put there peacefully, because we realized that the majority with the power always wins, basically, in violence. And we knew that. And that’s why they wanted people in the 99th that had that much sense to know this was going to happen if you do that. And we avoided most of that. The same way with overseas. Those people there before us had set up their signs and whatnot. We just moved them, put them on the ground, walked into the restaurants, ordered, turned around, came back out. We didn’t go in. You must realize, we had guns then, just like those in power had guns too. But we’re not over there to fight one another. We were over there to fight the enemy, so, therefore, the guns were not used. We were by ourselves most of the time. And we didn’t look upon that as an inferior situation. We looked upon that as a traditional habit of separatists.

Thomas Healy:
Just like we have, I was in the Navy Air. But Navy Air, we were always with the Marines. So we had our own, they had their own.

James Handy:
We were tied up with the engineers, because the engineers are the ones that put down our runways. See, the runways was already made out of metal and they hooked together. And when we moved overnight, the engineers carried the runway ahead of us so the planes could land.

Thomas Healy:
So now let’s go back to Chanute. You went to Chanute, went to school there. Then when you got finished there, where did you guys — Did you go back to the squadron or how did that —

James Handy:
When we finished Chanute, we went back to Tuskegee. By that time, they had built barracks and not quite finished post for us down at Tuskegee. And those that did not have residence was over in Montgomery, until we got finished in Tuskegee. But the planes were in Tuskegee. The aeronautical technical engineers and every person basically that worked on the plane, there existed places for them to stay, eat, and et cetera. Now, at Tuskegee, it was so rumored that the reason they put it at Tuskegee is because the Institute had the land, which the government readily was glad to use. Also, you must realize it was a feeding ground for Tuskegee to get jobs there as civilians. And the real truth of the matter is it was so stated that Booker T. Washington, the person that improved Tuskegee to where it became an institute and university, was on the side of the majority people of the south when he spoke at Atlanta for the great getting together of the southern states, and whatnot, and because of him, they chose Tuskegee. There were other people that wanted it, but they chose Tuskegee because Booker T. Washington had been grateful and helpful when you flash back to that time of the majority people.

Thomas Healy:
Now, when did you go — The 99th was there, correct?

James Handy:
Correct.

Thomas Healy:
Okay. When did you guys get your orders and then where did you go and how did you ship over?

James Handy:
Well, when we got all straight, all of us was finished, had our courses finished, everybody was trained, and then they sent us back home, back to Africa. And there we were, right there, and you might say we were in Humphrey Bogart’s territory, if you remember Casablanca. That’s exactly where we landed. So when we got off the boat, we’re walking around, these people came up, Habis Ali, komduhla (ph). We looked at each other, What in the H is that? That H stands for hell. And when we interpreted, it was, Good morning, praise Allah. So we whispered to one another, we were in ranks, That’s not African. I said, That’s not African at all. I said, That’s Arab. Correct. It was quite a while before we got to see our people. We throw away the place where we come from, the villages, and whatnot, but realizing that you don’t take your planes and put them in the heat of battle where the enemy can get to it, you take your planes and keep them way back so the enemy can’t get to it except by plane, and if they come by plane, then our guns can shoot them down and gives our planes a chance to get off the air and go attack them. It’s not like the infantry that’s right up in the front of things. We stay in the back of things, because our planes are so expensive and we don’t want them torn asunder. And we got there, we stayed in Africa a while, and then we went to Pantelleria, Sicily; Italy, Roma, and those places as the war begin to unfold and became very hot. And quite naturally, our planes were really, really, really not up to par to the Messerschmitt. We had the P-40. The P-40 was a good plane for carrying a 500-pound bomb, but it could not outmaneuver the Messerschmitt, the German Messerschmitt. So we did find out that the P-40 could turn in a closer circle than the Messerschmitt. So that was our safety, to keep turning into the circle until we get them to the place where they were in our sights rather than we in their sights. But when we got the P-51, now, that was a ship. It could fight that Messerschmitt. But the most important thing that we’re overlooking is that we would fly all the way from Africa to Germany, dog fight, and that P-51 would bring you back home. The P-40 couldn’t go that far and the P-40 was too sluggish. We were so glad when we got the P-51. It gave us a better chance. And when we escorted the bombers — And you’ll have to excuse me, but we never lost a bomber. When we were escorting the bombers over Germany, we never lost a bomber to the enemy planes. Now, some of them were shot down from AAC-AAC guns from the ground, but they were not shot down from the Messerschmitt in the air. That’s a great honor. It most likely will live in history that we never lost a bomber. And just think of how many lives were saved, how much money was saved, because those bombers were being shot down six, seven, eight, nine a trip, and you realize that’s a cost. And here come the 99th, saving those lives. I think that did more to break the barriers that had stood before us than anything else that mankind tried to enforce. When you see life-saving by our planes, materialistic saving by our planes, and you realize that’s those people that we said couldn’t fly and they’re shooting down planes to keep us from dying that we can get back. And if you’re any kind of person at all, if you have any kind of decency at all, you realize they belong, yes, they belong. And quite naturally, the wall of separatist begin to melt; slowly but surely, it begin to melt from the air people. And I don’t want to brag or anything, but, you know, we air people have a chip on our shoulders and we so lightly, calmly think we’re a little bit more important than the infantry and all the rest of them when we’re up there in the air like that, it sort of rubs off on you. But we never gave vent to that. We just simply had it in our own minds.

Thomas Healy:
When did the squad — When did the 99th really feel like they were really part of something?

James Handy:
I think when they allowed the newspapers and the media to broadcast that we had shot down German planes. See, we had bombed a lot of German planes on the ground. It was never stated. It was never brought forth until Captain Hall was given credit for shooting down the first Messerschmitt. He was a pilot. In other words, on the ground, and whatnot, we would call him, you know, Cunning Fox. He was cunning. And all the news a pilot could get about the plane he’s going to go against is a big help. See, when we had the P-40, we knew that the P-40 could not outfly that Messerschmitt. See, we knew that, you see. When you know that, you see, that is a goody for you. But when we got the P-51, and we realize the Messerschmitt, only thing they have is the pilots that’s been fighting longer than our pilots and have more experience than our pilots, then our pilots have got to develop a skill right away to offset that experience that the Messerschmitt’s pilots have in order to get back to base. And they soon learn that.

Thomas Healy:
Does any name stick out from the 99th or whatever that basically really pushed you guys and really, really got you guys the credit you guys needed?

James Handy:
Well —

Thomas Healy:
Was there a real flag waver there for any of you guys?

James Handy:
Well, I know some people are going to blame me the minute I say this, but I’m going to say it anyway. One of the persons that had clout to help us was a woman, Mrs. Roosevelt, the President’s wife. When she came to Tuskegee and got in the plane and let a black pilot take her off up into the air, that was it. And the FBI that was with Mrs. Roosevelt called the President and asked, should he let her go up. And the President said, “Well, she’s been doing everything she want to do, she’s not going to stop now.” And she didn’t stop. She crawled in that plane, they took her up. That was a big step forward. Now, before she had an opportunity to do that, Judge Hastings had a position that he was in with the elite and he resigned from the position that he had to show contempt, because the military would not have us into the Air Force. And from that the President Roosevelt begin to work. And then President Truman — you might say it sounds prejudiced, but we at the 99th liked him, because he made it legal that the separatists would go, wouldn’t be any more separation. So, quite naturally, that also proved what my daddy said: You have to have law, you go to the top. You get the top man to make a law, you don’t have to fight, you don’t have to do anything, it’s done. And that prove what my daddy said. I just wished I was smart as my daddy and momma. But they didn’t quite give it to me.

Thomas Healy:
You sound pretty smart to me. Let’s see. Let me ask you this: Would you — would you do this all over again?

James Handy:
Yes. If it were for the country.

Thomas Healy:
Hold on a second. When you do that, go, “I would do it all over again…” I mean, just say that, “I would do it all over again,” and then continue, if it was for the country.

James Handy:
Well, if it — if we were fighting for the country, I would volunteer to do this again, any time, fighting for the country. I would volunteer to do this any time because contrary to what a lot of people think, me and my persuasion, we feel this is our country, too. If you flash back from 1619, the people that came here at that time and their labor made it our country and we inherited this place as our country, because they gave their full measure, some of them, for this country. So we at the 99th, we didn’t think this country belonged to nobody else but us. We were part of it. We felt we were fighting for our country. And on the campus, we realized and we saw what Hitler was doing to those people overseas. So we says, we wonder what he’d do to us, the man must be stopped. So we volunteered to stop him. Regardless of what you think, intelligence have you to look ahead to envision what’s going to be if you don’t stop what is. Quite naturally, we had to stop Hitler, and so we volunteered. I wasn’t drafted. We volunteered.

Thomas Healy:
What would you want the generations to come to know and remember about World War II? This is tough. I know you’re a history teacher, so it would be —

James Handy:
When you see men losing their lives, coming back in body bags and some buried overseas, you realize that civilization must develop concepts whereas we can sit down and talk out our differences rather than fighting out our differences, but you must not depend on talking out your differences because the people across the water have never been read correctly as to what exactly they will do, and we must be armed to the teeth regardless of what you think. You can be armed to the teeth, but you don’t have to use it. It will keep others from coming after you if you’re armed to the teeth, per se. Today it’s different. The Armies will not come, I say personally, to the United States. What will come will be the terrorists. So we have got to rededicate ourselves to anti terrorists in the country. We must be alert, aware, and be talkative to those in charge when we see suspicions of any person, even though they’re not our enemy, to see what he’s doing. And a good example of that, if we had been truly alerted and people coming from foreign countries wanting to fly our planes and they had none home like that and wanted to do this, this should have been an alert signal right there. But we were so confident with our power on the battlefield that we missed it. And by missing it, we know the rest, 9-11.

Thomas Healy:
Okay. One more time, tell me your full name, your, like, IM, bop, bop, bop, staff sergeant, or whatever you were —

James Handy:
Correct.

Thomas Healy:
— and then tell me the squadron in the — Tell me that one more time.

James Handy:
I am Staff Sergeant James Otis Handy, 99th Fighter Squadron, the first of his kind in the history of the United States. We were highly honored for our accolades. We were highly honored for our participation, that we saved thousands and thousands of lives. And always remember that we perished too. There were soldiers, there were pilots and there were others that passed away. We must have our protection changed according to the terrorists of the nation and any other concept of conflict that would come our way. And in so doing, the masses of people will not be destroyed as 9-11.

Thomas Healy:
Okay. Do you have any funny stories to tell me?

James Handy:
Any funny stories? You mean about overseas?

Thomas Healy:
Uh-huh. Any of the guys you were involved with, any funny stuff? There’d have to be some funny stuff.

James Handy:
Well, we would get on the pilots ever now and then. We tell them, you think you so high and mighty, you think your ability to fly and your skills and whatnot is what gets you to the target and gets you back, and we tell them it’s not so because every plane that takes off the ground and goes toward the enemy, the whole ground crew prays for you and don’t you forget it. We tell them that. And we would also tell them, You may think this is your plane, but it’s not. It’s our plane. We keep you flying. If it wasn’t for us, you couldn’t fly. All we got to do is take one plug out, you not going to fly. You see. In other words, to get the pilots from getting too biggity for the lowly mechanic and whatnot; but some of the things that we talked about were, to a certain extent, to keep ourselves amused, because if you don’t have something to release the pressure on you, you become a nervous wreck. We had one guy that was very unique in telling jokes. We had one guy that used to play the organ, as we say, for the white folks. He played the organ. See, we had church overseas, you know, in tents, behind the lines. And he would go over there and play the organ and would come back to us, and we’d say, “Leave it there, man, leave it there, don’t bring it here.” We had little things like that, you know.

Thomas Healy:
Did you guys have any favorite songs you would sing?

James Handy:
Basically religious songs. And one other song that we had was “Little Yellow Basket.” Ella Fitzgerald was famous for that, and our commanding officer, Davis, he wasn’t a general then, he was a captain. And at that time, he bought a convertible, I think it was a Buick, and it was yellow. That was in Tuskegee. And we used it to call it “A tisket, a tasket, my little yellow basket.” And he would blush up a storm. And I was fortunate enough to be under Davis at Tuskegee. He was over ROTC. I was under him when we first went overseas. And then when he brought back the 332nd, I was still under him, then he came back and had the bomber pilots. He was a very unique man. He was a West Point graduate. And he went by the book. He went right by the book. I mean, I don’t care what it is, he would go by the book. I think that was because he was a West Point man. His father happened to be the first one of us to be a general in the armed forces of the United States. And then the son came along. I think the father was a catalyst to his son and getting things done. Because while the son was overseas, his father was working, I believe, to get him over 332nd and over the bombers. It doesn’t hurt to have people in high places that are your friends. [ to , inaudible discussion with videographer.]

Thomas Healy:
Have you ever seen — Off the record. I mean, I just want to ask you, have you ever seen a decent documentary about the Tuskegee?

James Handy:
Yes, to a certain extent, but the conflict of most documentaries, they either have the 99th and sometime leave out the 332nd, which was four groups, you see, not the four pursuit groups, and Davis was over all of that. He was over that. Sometime —

Thomas Healy:
Now, I mean, do you still go to the reunions and things?

James Handy:
Oh, yes, at Dover. We used to go at Dover Air Force base until, you know, the bombing and all that stuff, 9-11.

Thomas Healy:
I think I might have met you up there at Dover one day.

James Handy:
It’s possible. See, we used to go to the enlisted men’s club. We used to go there. We finally got — I think it’s a street named Tuskegee Boulevard. We got a plane, one of the big planes, the Spirit of Tuskegee painted on the side. We had free access until the bombing.

Thomas Healy:
9-11. Everybody, I mean —

James Handy:
We had the old — I shouldn’t say this, but they don’t like it. The old mess hall, and we got to the new one. We had access to both of them. Then, of course, they had to do restrictions, you know, after that bombing. They had to get restrictions.

Thomas Healy:
Did you stay in — Did you stay in the reserves or anything after you finished up?

James Handy:
No. No. When I finished, I came right back to school and finished school.

Thomas Healy:
At Tuskegee?

James Handy:
No. No. That’s a little story there. See, remember I said that when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I was walking down the street in Montgomery?

Thomas Healy:
Right.

James Handy:
This lovely —

Thomas Healy:
Right.

James Handy:
Well, she came over to Tuskegee and she saw me talking to some good looking young ladies. She suggested that I don’t need to be an agriculture man, I need to be a teacher like she was. So I went to Montgomery to Alabama State to be with her, and I finished at Alabama State as a teacher rather than an agriculture man. That’s what I did, all on account of her, because I wasn’t going to let her get away. And the reasons, you see, at first, see, my daddy was paying my way through Tuskegee, see, but when I got into the service and come back, the GI bill was paying my way. So I go over there to Alabama State with my first wife and they were paying it, the GI bill was paying it. That saved daddy a lot of money. My daddy had four children. He put every one of them in college.

Thomas Healy:
That’s what we tell my dad. We had seven of us. I was the oldest and my brother Jack was next to me. And during Viet Nam, we both went in, right in between high school and college. And we always said, when we got finished, we said, Well, you know, Dad, here’s our college bill you didn’t have to pay. He’d come across with some more money, but that was when university dollar was 15 dollar a credit hour.

James Handy:
Dad was tickled that he got all four of us in college and —

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