VACAVILLE — Solano County lost a piece of history with the death Saturday of Tuskegee Airman and retired Air Force Lt. Col. James Warren.
Warren, 90, of Vacaville, died of complications due to cancer.
“He will be sorely missed,” said his son, Jim Warren, on Monday. “He was a person who did what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it for the benefit of the Air Force and his community.”
The elder Warren served in three wars – World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
He enlisted in the military in 1943 and was assigned to the Tuskegee Army Air Force at Freeman Field in Indiana. He was eliminated from pilot training but entered navigator training and upon completing that he entered bombardier training, becoming qualified in two combat specialties.
The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of black aviators who fought in World War II, primarily in the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group. They were the first black aviators in the U.S. armed forces, helping break the color barrier in the military.
Warren trained with the 477th during World War II and went on to serve in the Air Force for 35 years, flying 173 combat missions in Korea and Vietnam.
While at Freeman Field in early 1945, Warren and other black officers were arrested for entering the segregated officers club in a protest for equality. They were charged with disobeying a superior officer. Warren went on to write a memoir about the protest, “The Freeman Field Mutiny.”
During and after Warren’s military career, he was awarded numerous medals that include the Congressional Gold Medal, which was presented to the Tuskegee Airmen by President George W. Bush in 2007.
Warren retired from the Air Force in 1978 and became involved in many endeavors, including the Young Eagles program at the Nut Tree Airport in Vacaville. The program encourages love of flight in youngsters.
“He was a very giving person, especially helping young men and women who wanted to learn to fly,” said his friend, Lloyd Tincher, on Monday. “I’m going to miss his energetic approach to helping the young people fly.”
In his mid-80s, Warren began to fulfill his own dream of learning to fly after first buying an airplane, a Beechcraft Skipper, in 2007, used to support the Young Eagles program.
Tincher and Robert Hertan were both his flight instructors while he learned to fly – finally acquiring his Federal Aviation Administration certificate when he was 87.
Hertan said it wasn’t an easy feat for Warren to complete his goal of learning to fly, but once he did both men had fun flying to various events together. Hertan said he was going to miss Warren’s enthusiasm toward aviation and his energy.
“I knew how much it meant to him to achieve a goal and keep flying,” Hertan said.
Warren also was an adviser for a couple of movies based on the Tuskegee Airmen, was a keynote speaker at a variety of events and attended both of President Barack Obama’s inaugurations.
“Col. Warren and his wife, Xanthia, were given an extraordinary privilege at the second inauguration parade,” said longtime friend and neighbor, Rochelle Stacey. “They watched the parade from the presidential viewing stand with President Obama, his family and other dignitaries.”
A week before he died, Warren was admitted to David Grant Medical Center. Hertan visited him in the hospital, both educating the nurses about Warren, and playing music for him.
Not just any music, though – a significant song from Warren’s Tuskegee days – “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” a Nat King Cole original, but Hertan played the version by The Andrews Sisters. It was a song, Hertan said, that Warren’s Tuskegee squadron played through their headsets as they flew through the skies. They rocked it with the planes rocking back and forth, Hertan said.
“It would have been fun to see on a newsreel,” he said.
A public viewing will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. May 30 at McCune Garden Chapel, 212 Main St., Vacaville. Visitation will take place at noon and the funeral at 1 p.m. May 31 at Bethany Lutheran Church, 621 S. Orchard Ave., Vacaville.
Future burial is planned for Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.
This version corrects the spelling of Lloyd Tincher’s last name.