PHOENIX — An original member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen who displayed a lifelong passion for learning and leadership has passed away.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Asa D. Herring was 95 years old. He was a Phoenix ambassador for the historic all-Black fighter group that served in World War II, according to a statement provided by associates of Herring.
“He was such an outstanding person, outstanding aviator, a great role model,” said retired Air Force Colonel Richard Toliver, who partnered with Herring during the last two decades to lead the Archer-Ragsdale Arizona Chapter, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.
An outstanding student and service member
A high school graduate by the age of 16, Herring was a quick study. He passed the U.S. Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet written exam just a year later and was forced to wait until he was 18 before he could join the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Herring eventually became one of 992 Black pilots during World War II, trained as Tuskegee aviation cadets in Alabama. The Tuskegee Airmen fought for their country during a time when their country discriminated against them at home and denied them voting rights.
“They paved the road. They got as many of the rocks and boulders out of the road as possible,” said Toliver.
Herring served during the final months of the war and then left the military to pursue his education.
He graduated from several technical schools, including Tuskegee Institute, AL; Aeronautical University in Chicago; and Lewis College of Science and Technology in Lockport, Illinois, according to a statement provided by the Archer-Ragsdale Arizona Chapter.
He also earned a bacherlor's degree in business administration and business management degree from Ottawa University.
22 years of distinguished military service
Herring was denied job opportunities due to racism and in 1949 he volunteered again for the military.
He would spend 22 years at bases around the world, flying 350 combat missions in Vietnam, and earning several distinguished medals. Those decorations included the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, and Air Medal with 13 Oak Leaf Clusters.
Herring was the first Black Squadron Commander at Luke Air Force Base.
After retirement from the Air Force, Herring joined Western-Electric Co. where he served in several management positions.
The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen
“The Tuskegee Airmen story is a really great story about America. It’s about people overcoming adversity,” Toliver said.
Including ground personnel, mechanics and logistics, there were more than 14,000 Tuskegee Airmen. An estimate last year put the amount still living at less than 400. According to the 2019 book Soaring to Glory, there were fewer than a dozen fighter pilots who saw combat in World War II who were still alive.
Toliver says the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen is relevant today.
“As we look at our society today there’s a lot of turbulence, a lot of things happening,” Toliver said. “But on the other hand, America has always been challenged. Every generation gets an opportunity to step up.”
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