A few weeks ago, I interviewed Charles Ector, of Gainesville. I had been told he was a former Tuskegee Airman. He was portrayed as a World War II fighter pilot who came back home from Europe to join the vaunted fighters that had to deal with enemies abroad and racial prejudice at home. When we met, I asked him about his experiences. He said, "I don't want to talk about it."
Now I know why. He was never a member of that organization.
After the column first appeared, I got a call from Ron Brewington, a former public relations official for the Tuskegee Airmen Inc., who now resides in Los Angeles. Brewington and the TAI are fiercely protective of their organization because it seems that claiming an association with them is not all that uncommon and they don't take kindly to those who try.
Brewington and others in his group scour the media for any mention of the Tuskegee Airmen. When something doesn't check out, they pursue the matter vigorously.
That is exactly what happened with Charles Ector and why I got a call. Brewington says the TAI has no record of his ever having flown with them or even having been a part of the group.
What followed was a series of telephone calls with Mr. Ector, who finally admitted to me that he was in fact not a Tuskegee Airman. He says that when he got to the Chehaw train station in Tuskegee, Ala., he didn't like the way people were being treated, so he left.
He now says a friend intervened before he got in real trouble for walking away from Tuskegee and got him into the Army Air Force, where he served in Guam not as a fighter pilot, but as a radio operator. Ector claims that everything else he told me, including his experiences in the civil rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is factual, but I am of the old school, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."
I have been producing a weekly column for the past 12 years and this was a first for me. I do a great deal of due diligence when considering a column topic. Charles Ector was no exception, but somehow the holes in the tale he wove were not apparent to me or to a lot of others who have known him longer than I, until the call from Brewington.
Had Mr. Ector been upfront with me during our interview about his military service, there would be no need to have to write this column. What he did was disingenuous at best and at worst deceitful, even to the point of offering to share videotapes of the Tuskegee Airmen with me as though he was a part of the organization. And it was totally unnecessary.
The experience has made me mad, sad and glad. I am mad that what I told you initially about Charles Ector was not totally accurate. I'm not sure where the line has been blurred between the truth and his perception of the truth. He is, after all, 88 years old and maybe some of it we can blame on a faulty memory.
I am sad for the man. He doesn't need this kind of negative attention at this point in his life, but as Ron Brewington reassured me, Ector didn't have to agree to the interview and the attendant risks that go along with it, either. He also had ample opportunity to set the record straight. Brewington has little sympathy for Ector or anyone else who misrepresents their military service, especially as it relates to the Tuskegee Airmen.
The glad part is the opportunity to correct the record. You might not always like my opinions, but you need to be assured that everything I say, I mean. That seems not to have been the case with Charles Ector.
E-mail columnist Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org.