ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — John Edward Allen, a New Mexico veteran who served as a Tuskegee Airman during World War II and later earned honors for his Air Force service during the Vietnam War, died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer.
The NAACP Albuquerque Chapter President Harold Bailey said Allen died from multiple myeloma. He was 84.
A long-time resident of New Mexico after retiring, Allen was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Forces right out of high school in Live Oak, Fla., in 1945. At 17, he was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Wing of the Tuskegee Airmen — a group that broke racial barriers in World War II by becoming the first black aviators in the U.S. military.
He did not see combat in World War II but he later received the Air Force Commendation Medal for assisting in de-arming two dozen 500-pound bombs that were dropped from the wing of a B-52 being prepared for a Vietnam War mission.
In addition, Allen and about 300 original Tuskegee Airmen were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 2007.
Upon retiring, the Rio Rancho resident was a sought after speaker around New Mexico and founded in 2000 a local arm for the General Lloyd W. “Fig” Newton Chapter of the Tuskegee Airman.
“History speaks for itself,” said Bailey. “He was a role model, not only for African-Americans, but for all Americans in general.”
Despite his accomplishments, Allen’s wife, Willie E. Allen, said her husband rarely talked about them unless he was asked.
“I didn’t even know he was a Tuskegee Airman until after we were married,” she said. “When I found out I started reading all about the Tuskegee Airmen. I was so proud of him.”
His wife said her husband also hardly talked about the racial discrimination he faced in his early days in the military and refused to carry any anger over it.
“That was just not the type of person he was,” Allen said.
Last year, the veteran was a subject of an Albuquerque Journal investigation that reported Allen was a victim of a botched surgery by the Albuquerque VA hospital that resulted in an eye infection. The surgery also resulted in permanent scarring and vision impairment, the newspaper reported.
Family members said a memorial is being planned Aug. 13 at the African American Performing Arts Center.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.