BANGOR, Maine — One of the internationally known Tuskegee Airmen from World War II — the first African-American military aviators for the United States — is coming to town to speak at the 37th annual Disabled American Veterans state convention this weekend.
“We got James Sheppard — he’s a Tuskegee Airman — as our guest speaker,” George Mathis, the state’s DAV commander, said last week.
Sheppard, 87, is one of the last remaining Tuskegee Airmen. He enlisted at age 18 in the Army Air Force during World War II and was assigned to Tuskegee Air Field in Alabama, where he learned to fix planes.
In January 1944, his unit, the 332nd Fighter Group, was sent to Italy as part of the Fifteenth U.S. Army Air Force to fight the Germans.
The DAV is a nonprofit group established by veterans to help veterans. World War II, Vietnam War and Korean War veterans are active in the group, and in recent years have been joined by those from the Gulf War of the 1990s and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mathis said.
DAV chapters across the county have been instrumental in bringing issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, once known as shell shock, to the forefront to ensure that those suffering from disabling problems get treatment.
Mathis is a retired U.S. Navy airman who was injured on Jan. 14, 1969, during an explosion on the USS Enterprise that killed 27 and injured 314.
He moved to Maine from Massachusetts in 2000, quickly got involved with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and began volunteering. Nowadays, he can be found at one of the VA’s community-based outpatient clinics, or behind the wheel of the DAV’s van.
For several years the convention, which features a commander’s testimonial social on Thursday, an auxiliary recognition luncheon on Saturday and a banquet on Sunday, has been held at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel at Bangor International Airport.
At the 2010 convention, Richard Brunell was named the senior vice commander, Gary York became the first junior vice commander and Jim Gehring was named the second junior vice commander for the group.
To learn about the DAV, visit dav.org, or call the Maine DAV office at 623-5725.