The Congressional Medal of Honor was presented posthumously to the family of the late Tuskegee Airman Leon Nathan Duncan recently at Vanderveer Park United Methodist in Brooklyn, thanks in part to the efforts of Claude B. Govan of Tri State Chapter Tuskegee Airmen, Inc (TAI).
The presentation featured musical selections, (by whom and in what form), scripture readings, remarks from Assemb. Rhoda Jacobs of the 42nd District, and a presentation by Wilfred DeFour and Dabney Montgomery of the Claude B. Govan Tri State Chapter TAI.
Mr. Montgomery, a Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen [DOTA] vividly described to an audience of about 100 people what he, Duncan and fellow Tuskegee Airmen were up against during World War II on the home front and abroad.
“Imagine this,” said Montgomery: “People are saying in Washington [DC]: ‘We don’t believe you can do it. You’re wasting time … And in the middle of all of this your relative stood up and said, ‘I can, I can, I can.’ And he with all the other men stood up and fought back. For the first time in the history of warfare, we had a Black man in a fighter plane firing at a German destroyer in the Mediterranean Sea” said Mr. Montgomery.
According to the Claude B. Govan Tri State TAI website, the Tuskegee Airmen were the first officially sanctioned African American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces. The group of nearly 1,000 pilots made up the 332nd Fighter Group. Mr. Duncan was a Sergeant and a 1st Gunner during World War II [1939-1945.]
Arnold Duncan, son of Leon, was motivated to receive his dad’s medal after speaking to Terrance Holliday, the commissioner of Veteran Affairs for New York City, at the MET Multicultural Alliance Development Initiative Veteran’s Breakfast last April. Arnold contacted the Claude B. Govan Tri State Chapter of TAI, whose president is Patt Terrelonge — daughter of Jamaican-born DOTA Victor Terrelonge, who made the necessary phone calls for a replica of the medal to be made and delivered to the Duncan family.
“Award presentations like this are necessary,” he said, “because it lets our race — our Black race, know that we are a part of building this country and winning World War II. Tuskegee Airmen like my father did what they had to do and they survived. So show them the recognition.”
In 2007, President George W. Bush presented the Congressional Gold Medal to a group of 300 Tuskegee Airmen but Mr. Leon N. Duncan died years earlier in 2002. He was born in Litchfield, South Carolina on March 17, 1917 and eventually moved to New York City. He retired from the New York City Transit Authority at the age of 70.