EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

February 13, 2013

Goodbye to a hero

Former Tuskegee Airman, winner of the Congressional Gold Medal passes away at 91

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“He was a great friend, the kind you’d always want to have,” he said. “I learned a lot from Luther. He was a great teacher. You can tell him anything and it was in lock down. He never told me what to do, he always let me figure it out on my own.”

Those who knew McIlwain also remember him for his love of reading, his ability to tell stories and his great sense of humor.

“He had an incredible wealth of information. The stories he would tell kept you at the edge of your seat, whether it was about the army or being a police officer,” Hefmen said.

She recalls how every time she talked with McIlwain, he ended the conversation with, “Love you, madly.”

“I’m still devastated, my heart is broken, but my mind knows he’s not in pain and in a better place,” Hefmen said.

Dottie Avery remembers McIlwain because he was her father’s best friend.

“My family loved Luther. He was a kindhearted man, who never beat around the bush. He never put on airs. Whether rich, poor, young or old, no matter who they were, if they were down on their luck he was there for them,” Avery said.

In 2007, McIlwain and 200 fellow Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush.

Former Methuen Central District City Council Kathleen Corey Rahme attended the ceremony with McIlwain and his sister, Glendora Putnam.

Rahme remembers when the men in walkers and wheelchairs were saluted by the president and they saluted him back.

“That is a moment that will be forever in my mind. It was sad that they had to wait so long, but at least they received the respect of our country, the President and Congress. It was long overdue,” Rahme said.

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