Sitting above the hum of slot machines at Resorts World Casino New York City in South Ozone Park on Veterans Day, Audley Coulthurst slowly lowered himself into his seat, placed his folded hands on his chest and recalled a life that, now, is hard to imagine – a life of being prepared to give up everything for a country that wouldn’t let Coulthurst, a black man, fight for his country against Germany in World War II.
“I was part of the bomber group, and they didn’t allow us to go into combat,” said Coulthurst, a self-described “New York City boy” who grew up in Harlem, now lives in Jamaica, and served as a Tuskegee airman from 1942 to 1946. “We went through training mission after training mission, but they wouldn’t let us fight.”
Ultimately, Coulthurst, who joined fellow military men at a Veterans Day ceremony at Resorts World on Monday, and his fellow World War II bombers – all members of the now famous Tuskegee Airmen, the first black pilots in the history of American combat – were told to prepare to fight in Japan, but the atomic bombs were dropped on the country before they arrived.
Tuskegee Airmen Richard Braithwait, left, and Audley Coulthurst, attended the Veterans Day ceremony in South Ozone Park.
The only black air units to go into combat during World War II were the 99th Pursuit Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group – and they had to fight more than just the enemy, Coulthurst said.
“They fought two wars – a war overseas and a war of discrimination,” he said.
One of six black students in his class at the City College of New York’s business school in the early 1940s, Coulthurst finished his freshman year and decided to enlist in the Army as the country braced itself for a war that was one of the deadliest conflicts in human history.
“Growing up in New York, there was passive discrimination – you wouldn’t, for example, be served at Longchamps,” the Jamaica veteran said of a pricey chain of restaurants popular in New York City around the time of the Second World War. “Really, my first time experiencing discrimination was on the train to Charleston, South Carolina for training.”
Coulthurst’s story was one of a number remembered at the Veterans Day ceremony at Resorts World, during which Sgt. Sean McCabe, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and now sits on South Queens’ Community board 10, stressed how important it is for everyone to remember the men and women who have experienced lives of pain and loss so others would not have to experience the same.
“If there’s anything you take away from Veterans Day, let it be pride and honor,” said McCabe, who served in the U.S. Army in Iraq from 2005 to 2006 and in Afghanistan in 2010.
McCabe, who was celebrating his anniversary with his wife, Melanie, on Veterans Day, said he was inspired to volunteer with the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks – which happened just after he graduated from high school.
“You want to be part of something larger than yourself – it’s a total commitment,” said McCabe, who honored the day with his wife, his 5-year-old daughter Kiera – and a little boy, Liam, who his wife was expecting to give birth to at any minute.
By Anna Gustafson