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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Indianapolis loses two legends

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The Indianapolis community has lost two residents who were among the last surviving members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

Roscoe C. Harkins, died on March 24 at age 90, and Walter Palmer died at home this week at age 87. Both had been suffering from cancer.

Harkins and Palmer served with the Tuskegee Airmen, a legendary group of African-American fighter pilots that overcame racism and successfully escorted Allied bombers in dangerous skies during World War II.

America’s first Black military airmen, the group was credited with never losing a bomber to enemy fire and shooting down over 100 planes, the best escort record of the war.

A Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, Harkins worked as a site manager for the Social Security Administration following his retirement from the military, and was active in the community as a deacon at New Bethel Baptist Church and a board member of the Indianapolis Senior Center.

Palmer, a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, was also a pilot and flew a P-51 Mustang plane named “the Duchess” (in honor of his wife) during 158 missions above Germany and Italy in the European theater of World War II.

An eye injury in an auto accident ended Palmer’s military career. He and his wife Rosalind moved to Indianapolis from his native New York in the early 1970s.

In recent years the Tuskegee Airmen began receiving more of the recognition they deserved and Palmer became well known throughout Indiana as a motivational speaker at schools and civic groups, where he encouraged listeners to not let anything- racism, economic difficulties, or any other obstacle – keep them from succeeding.

“Dad’s message to all children was to focus on what you want to do with your life and not let anyone deter you from your goals,” said Janice Carter, Palmer’s daughter.

Harkins and Palmer were among 300 surviving Tuskegee Airmen honored in Washington in 2007 when they received the Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush. They were among six surviving Tuskegee Airmen in Indiana, three of whom were from Indianapolis.

They participated, along with fellow Indianapolis Tuskegee Airman Arthur L. Carter Sr., in events organized by the Indianapolis Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., which is dedicated to preserving the history of Black veterans and giving scholarships to students. The organization’s next meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, April XX at Tillman Harpole American Legion Post #249, 2523 Martin Luther King Jr. St.

The deaths of Harkins and Palmer come at a difficult time, since organizers of the Indianapolis 500 have been planning to honor the Tuskegee Airmen during festivities for this year’s race.

Harkins was remembered during a special memorial service on Monday before being laid to rest at the Field of Valor in Crown Hill Cemetery.

A calling for Palmer, followed by a funeral, will be at 10 a.m. April 11 at Lavenia Smith & Summers Home for Funerals, 5811 E. 38th St. He will be buried in Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, N.Y.

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