A is for awesome. A is for admirable. A is for Airmen, as in Tuskegee Airmen. And A is for Asa, Lieutenant Colonel Asa Herring, Jr. Yesterday we celebrated his 94th birthday outside his home in Central Phoenix.
You could also say A is for Arizona. Residents of the state proudly and passionately turned out to show their love and respect for Lt. Col. Herring. Birthday greetings were made on signs and posters. Gifts, balloons, and cards were delivered. And a drive-by parade of cars was continuous. In fact, often wrapping around the block for the better part of an hour.
Asa Herring, Jr. showed early he belonged in “The Greatest Generation.” Months after the Pearl Harbor Attack, he graduated from high school in North Carolina at age 16. The next year he passed the Army Air Corps written examination. However, he was forced to wait until after his 18th birthday before he could enter the U.S. Military.
Asa Herring, Jr. went to flight school at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. By the time he successfully completed his training in the experimental program and was ready, he was too late to fly in World War II. That wasn’t all bad news to the young Black pilot because he didn’t like the turbulence he experienced with discrimination.
The idea of a segregated military was the major reason he chose to leave the U.S. Army in 1946. Two years later, President Harry S. Truman abolished discrimination in the United States Armed Forces with his signing of Executive Order 9981. His heroic actions launched many heroic actions by Asa Herring, Jr. The young pilot re-enlisted and enjoyed a standout military career in both the Korean War and the Vietnam War where he flew more than 300 combat missions.
Lieutenant Colonel Asa Herring, Jr. is still a living legend around Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. He flew in three tours of duty out of that base and became its first African American Squadron Commander.
It was there at Luke AFB, he gave flight lessons to the Germans. How much did they love their instructor? They officially made him an honorary command pilot in the German Luftwaffe. Again, the only African American to have such an honor bestowed upon him.
How much do Tuskegee proteges love Asa? Look no further than distinguished Retired USAF Colonel Richard Toliver. He came from Litchfield Park yesterday and led the love-filled singing of Happy Birthday.
Speaking of honors, yesterday was indeed one for me. After the colonel got up from his nap, we sat around for hours talking and laughing with him and his family members popping in and out. Mostly, it was me listening like a sponge to this man and trying to match his gratitude for the moment. It was such a pleasant surprise, I could have left before the birthday party, and felt like it was an amazing, memorable day.
Finally, we say A is for Air Force, as in United States Air Force hero. A is for American, as in American hero. Lieutenant Colonel Asa Herring, Jr. was both. Thank you, sir, for your sacrifice and service. And thank you for allowing me the pleasure of coming to your 94th Birthday party. I remember what we talked about. God willing, we’ll both be at your 95th this time next year.