Tuskegee Airman Herbert E. Carter was born on September 27, 1919, in Amory, Mississippi, to Willie Ann Sykes Carter and George Washington Carter. He was one of the 33 original Tuskegee Airmen who broke color barriers in World War II. 

LTC-Herbert-Eugene-“Gene”-Carter. Photo courtesy.

Training

Herbert graduated from Tuskegee High School in 1941 and went on to join the United States Army in July of 1942 as a member of the 99th Fighter Squadron. He enrolled in Tuskegee University’s branch of the Civilian Pilot Training Program, intending to use his flying skills and education to become a rural veterinarian “flying from farm to farm”. During his first flight, his dream changed, and he committed to a life as a military aviator.

Carter was a cadet in Class 42-F of the Tuskegee Airmen, the fourth class to graduate from Tuskegee Army Airfield. He was his class’s Cadet Captain and Maintenance Engineering Officer.

Marriage- Tuskegee Airmen’s first couple

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Carter holds a portrait of his wife and a photograph of himself from their flying days. Photo courtesy.

On August 21, 1942, He married Mildred L. Hemmons- Carter, the first black woman in Alabama to earn a pilot’s license and one of the Tuskegee Airmen. They were fondly called the first couple of the Tuskegee Airmen. Carter was married for more than 60 years to Mildred L. Hemmons Carter.

Career

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Tuskegee-Airmen- Photo courtesy. 

He went off to war in April 1943. Mr. Carter flew 77 missions with the Airmen during World War II. The missions were against the German and Italian Air Force in Northern Africa, Sicilian Italian and European campaigns. He only crashed once in his entire flying career. 

He fought for freedom from tyranny internationally and for freedom from discrimination at home in America. The Tuskegee airmen were never honored during their work, as if “they didn’t have the ability, dexterity, physiology and psychology to operate something as complicated as an aircraft or tanks”, he said – 2008 interview with the Associated Press. The Tuskegee Airmen believed the antidote to racism was excellence and performance, and they performed with distinction.

After the war ended, Carter earned his B.S. degree in industrial education in 1955 from Tuskegee University and his M.A. degree in administration and supervision in 1969. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force after twenty-six years of commissioned service in 1969. 

Carter worked at Tuskegee University as Associate Dean of Student Services and administration until 1985. He continued to visit troops who deployed overseas. Col. Carter spoke severally to cadets of the Tuskegee University Air Force- Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). He told them about the Tuskegee Airmen’s plight and how they became the “best of the best.” He also reminded them that, as future officers, they must portray the core values and continue to keep the airmen’s legacy alive,” Kelly Primus, commander of the Tuskegee University Air Force ROTC, said.

Honors

Col. Herbert Carter Terminal. Photo courtesy.

Col. Carter was a prestigiously decorated military officer. Among his decorations were: the Air Medal, four Clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal, Distinguished Unit Citation, European Theater Medal, five Bronze Stars, National Defense Medal, one Bronze Star, the Air Force Longevity Award, five Oak Leaf Clusters.

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On June 6, 2006, Carter received the Chevalier Legion of Honor. This is France’s highest honor and most prestigious award, presented to him by former President of the French Republic, Jacques Chirac, for his outstanding service during the liberation of France during World War II. 

In February 2012, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, paid tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen during a visit to the Tuskegee University. He presented Carter with the Outstanding Leadership Award. “Who will put their lives at risk? Who will work to help others? Col. Carter did that for his generation,” Dempsey said during the presentation.

Tuskegee Mayor Tony Haygood presided over a new airport terminal naming ceremony after Colonel Herbert E. Carter Terminal at Moton Field on August 7, 2020.

Herbert E. Carter’s Death

Col. Carter died on November 8, 2012, at East Alabama Medical Center, aged 93. 

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