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Two Tuskegee Airmen Who Were Close Friends Die on the Same Day at Age 91

Two Tuskegee Airmen and close friends die on the same day

Credit: GABRIEL BENZUR/THE LIFE IMAGES COLLECTION/GETTY

Two members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the historic all-Black group of military pilots in World War II, passed away at the age of 91 on the same day in Los Angeles.

Both of the brave men, Clarence E. Huntley Jr. and Joseph Shambrey enlisted together back in 1942.

That decision changed both of their lives, as they shared experiences that led them to a lifelong friendship.

On January 5, both of the men passed away, their relatives told the Associated Press on Sunday.

During their time with the Tuskegee Airmen, both Huntley and Shambrey were shipped overseas to Italy with the 100th Fighter Squadron of the Army Air Force’s 32nd Fighter Group.

They both worked as mechanics and kept the planes in working condition.

Huntley was particularly conscious about his duty to ensure the planes were functioning properly.

It was about more than the plane, his family members explained.

For Huntley, it was about keeping his men alive.

“The life of his pilot was in his hands, and he took that very seriously,” Huntley’s nephew said.

He said that it even earned Huntley the nickname “Mother” from squadron commander Capt. Andrew D. Turner.

All the men of the Tuskegee Airmen put their lives on the line for a country that still didn’t give them the rights and respect of their white counterparts.

Shambrey’s son, Tim Shambrey, recalled the poor treatment his father received when he returned along with the other troops.

The white returning soldiers were always treated with warm embraces, firm handshakes and free coffee.

For Shambrey and the other Black troops, just getting a simple “congratulations” or a thank you would have been a rare occurence.

“When he and his buddies came off, dressed in their uniforms, of course they didn’t get any congratulations,” Shambrey said.

They were also told they needed to pay for their coffee.

Shambrey said the men didn’t make much of a fuss about it.

“The thing about those men is that they were very proud,” he said. “They were already used to so much discrimination.”

The two heroes were never given the warm welcomes and messages of gratitude that they deserved but they did stick together even later in life.

Shambrey’s relatives said he didn’t talk much about his war service but he would always gather many of his Army buddies together for barbecues.

Huntley was just as tight-lipped about his time in the service.

Even though he was not recognized for his selflessness, Huntley insisted that he wasn’t doing it for anyone to recognize him.

Huntley’s daughter, Shelia McGee, said that her father often told his family that he was simply “doing what [he] was supposed to do.”

The Associated Press reported that Shambrey also served as a National Guard combat engineer during the Korean War and later worked with the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.

Huntley served as a skycap for more than six decades at airports in Burbank and Los Angeles.

 

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