METHUEN - Luther McIlwain of Methuen, who made history as a member of the all-black Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, has died at the age of 91.
He died Friday. Friends and relatives are invited to attend a wake from 4-7 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Dewhirst Funeral Home, 80 Broadway in Methuen. A funeral service will immediately follow.
McIlwain was a Second Lieutenant with the 477th B-25 Bomber group. The squadron fought in North Africa and Europe.
McIlwain was also an instructor who trained many of the nearly 1,000 black aviators in the unit.
Born in Blaine, S.C., his family moved to Lawrence when he was 2. He graduated from Methuen High in 1939 and attended Allen University in Columbia, S.C. When he tried to join the military, recruiters ridiculed him for wanting to be a pilot, but eventually enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943.
"They told me I couldn't fly a plane because I was black and I was stupid. I had to prove to them that I could," he later said in an interview with The Eagle-Tribune.
IN 2007, McIlwain and 200 fellow Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George Bush.
After the war, McIlwain was a police officer in New York City from until 1968. McIlwain returned to Methuen after retiring from the police department.
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