Haitian-Tuskegee Airman Receives Medal – April 6, 2010

Haitian-Tuskegee Airman Receives Medal – April 6, 2010
(A Haitian connection to America’s aviation history)

More than 65 years ago, Raymond Cassagnol, was one of five Haitian-Tuskegee Airmen to earn his pilot wings at Tuskegee Army Air Field (Alabama). The first to graduate, Class 43-G (July1943), today he is the last surviving Haitian-Tuskegee Airman. The efforts of Zellie Rainey Orr in February 2010 led to the location of Cassagnol and procurement of his medal. Videographer, 16 yearold, Nia Haley Orr.

To his knowledge, he’s the last airman remaining of the six Haitians sent for pilot training at Tuskegee Institute inTuskegee, Ala. And he laments that he limited his contacts with that hallowed ground of aviation training history since the war ended. “When you haven’t seen something in a long time, it looks small to the imagination. That’s why Tuskegee is just a ‘remembrance field’ to me now,” he said. “One day, a friend who was in the American military said he saw my picture in the Smithsonian,” Cassagnol said. “I said, ‘I’d like to see that.’ I went, and there it was. Haitians are part of American aviation history.”

Cassagnol was one of three airnen who left Haiti for America in January 1943. He’s still alive, but the others met different fates in life. One was involved in an attack on the Haitian presidential palace in the 1960s. He was killed and dragged through the streets. The other was arrested after he retired. Nobody knew whathappened to him after that. Source: Article Airman, Feb, 2002 by John B. IV Dendy

Born in Port au Prince on September 20, 1920. In 1942, he enrolled in the Haitian Army, when Elie Lescot government announced the formation of the Haitian Air Force (Corpsd’Aviation). Shortly thereafter, he was assigned to the maintenance department as a mechanic.

His devotion to his work did not go unnoticed by Major Eshelman, director of the Corps. In February 1943, Raymond was given the opportunity to be trained as pilot. With S/Lt. Philippe Celestinand Alix Pasquet, he left Haiti to attend the training at theTuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. He graduated as well as the other officers Fighter Pilots and returned to Haiti to serve his country.

In 1947 he obtained his pilot private commercial license and worked as pilot for the Dauphin Plantation. In the 50’ he ventured in the preparation of lumbers for construction and put together a Lumber factory in the Plateau Central. To provide an adequate support of the-day-to-day operation of the plant, he acquired a small airplane (BT-13) for quick access to Port-au-Prince in less than half hour, instead of the two to three day commute on ground transportation. A field of 1200 feet long was prepared for landing and take off. The authorization to fly given by Cerca-La-Source military center was not an issue and the back and forth over the island by Raymond became routine.

Several members at the Army Headquarters did not like the idea and clearance to fly could only be granted by them in Port au Prince. It became harder and harder for Raymond to obtain the authorization to fly and the airplane was most of the time on the ground and was becoming a burden for the factory. To avoid further complication, Raymond decided to sell the BT-13 to the only possible buyer, the Aviation Corps of Haiti. The field used as one way, so beneficial short and long term to the community and the region was left abandoned. The airplane was used by the Corpsd”Aviation in the transport of mail and passengers for a long time thereafter.

On October 08, 1962 fearing for his life as well as his family’s safety, Raymond crossed the Dominican border to seek political asylum. The assassination of Truijilo several months earlier made it possible. On May 1969, Raymond was one of the pilots of theB-25 that dropped the bombs over Duvalier in the National palace. (See a page of History May 20, 1964)The Raymond Cassagnol’s book, Mémoires d’un Révolutionnairel; “A slice of the Haitian political life 1937 to 1988 (http://www.fordi9.com/Pages/AffairCassagnol.htm)

Comments

One Response to “Haitian-Tuskegee Airman Receives Medal – April 6, 2010”
  1. Fascinating subject few Americans know. The story of these men should receive much more attention.
    Could you forward this comment to Mr. Alix Pasquet with my email address should he want to communicate with Global Therapy Group at Hopital de la Communaute Haitienne?
    Thank you for your assistance
    Jo Ann Roberts P.T.

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