Iowa Tuskegee Airman Makes Final Flight
By Senior Master Sgt. Tim Day, 132FW/PA
/ Published December 20, 2009
Des Moines, Iowa -- Capt. Luther Smith, one of Iowa's Tuskegee Airman died Wednesday, December 9, 2009 at 89 of kidney failure near his home in Villanova, Pa. Native of Des Moines, Roosevelt High School Graduate and University of Iowa Graduate, Smith was accepted into the Army Air Corps in 1941.
Capt. Smith was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group operating in Europe and flew 133 combat missions, credited with12 enemy aircraft kills before being shot down over Zagreb, Croatia, in 1944. Capt. Smith parachuted from his damaged aircraft and severely injured his leg after landing in a tree. Capt. Smith was captured by the Germans and held seven months in a prisoner of war camp.
During a dedication ceremony of the P-51D replica bearing Capt. Smith's name and plane number held at the 132nd Fighter Wing, Des Moines, Iowa on November 9, 2002, Capt. Smith explained in detail his life growing up in Des Moines and his experiences as a Tuskegee Airman to the crowd of 300.
Capt. Smith related that his treatment by his captors was at times better than the other pilots that he was housed with because he was African-American; he felt his captors treated him as a celebrity, often receiving larger food rations, and playing cards with his captors. Due to the extensive damage to his leg and his captors' limited medical abilities, Capt. Smith lost over 70 pounds, almost losing his life during his captivity and ending his flying career. Capt. Smith's closing comment to the group amplified the feelings of the other Tuskegee Airmen present during the ceremony, "In 1941 nobody wanted the Tuskegee Airmen, and in 1945 only the Nazis didn't want us."