Wearing a red jacket adorned with an Air Force wings pin and a Tuskegee Airman insignia, Miles Washington sits surrounded by family and supporters. His wife, Cozette, 87, strokes his hand as her eyes begin to tear up, although she can’t help but smile.
“He’s one in a million,” she said. “And I say he’s representing all of the Tuskegee Airmen, because he’s one of the best people you’d ever want to meet, and he is so patriotic.”
In celebration of Black History Month, the nursing facility ManorCare Health Services of Arlington County honored Washington, 89, during a ceremony Feb. 28 for his role as a Tuskegee Airman, the African American aviators who served in World War II, paving the way for racial equality in the armed forces. Washington arrived at ManorCare on Jan. 25 this year and was joined by his wife a few weeks later.
He was unable to speak during the program, but the speeches and praise from his family, a longtime friend and members of the military paint a picture of a humble man whose strong character and devotion to his country and loved ones made him worthy of recognition.
“He had so many honors because of starting at Tuskegee,” said Cozette, who has been married to him for 67 years. “That’s where it all started. And I’m proud of him. I’m proud to be his wife.”
In May 1944, he enlisted in the Tuskegee Airmen program. World War II ended while he was still in training, but he then served in the Air Force during the Korean and Vietnam wars and also went into Strategic Air Command. He finished his time in the military as a lieutenant colonel, retiring in 1970.
“There were generals who would not fly unless my husband was the navigator on the plane,” Cozette said. “That’s how good he was.”
Washington, an only child, grew up in Philadelphia. He graduated from Lincoln University with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1947. He went on to receive his master’s degree in business administration in 1963 from George Washington University.
For his service, he has received a number of awards, including the U.S. Air Force Management Engineering Award for Professional Excellence, a Joint Service Commendation Medal and an Air Force Commendation Medal.
Washington’s friend and fellow Tuskegee Airman William Fauntroy, 87, who refers to Washington by his nickname “Nic,” shared memories of their time together. The two met when they joined the Tuskegee Airmen program at the same time. They were trained at the Tuskegee Army Airfield and the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Ala., and have been friends ever since.
“He was a man who presented himself in a very intelligent way,” Fauntroy said. “He didn’t cuss and carry on. He didn’t drink. And it was one of those things that — it made you want to be like that.”
They were pre-aviation cadets before training began, and they became single-engine pilots. Fauntroy says Washington made him proud to be a Tuskegee Airman.
Sgt. 1st Class Charles W. Allen, whose wife, Gloria Allen, is ManorCare’s director of activities, gave the opening invocation of the program. He reached out to the public affairs office of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, in Virginia, and they sent Command Sgt. Maj. Earlene Lavender to attend the program. Lavender said this was her first time meeting a Tuskegee Airman. She presented Washington and Fauntroy with Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Command Team coins, thanking them for their service. Cozette Washington also received the coin for her role as a military spouse.
“Because my dad is a very humble person, he doesn’t talk about himself,” said Marion Scott, who learned as an adult that her father was a Tuskegee Airman. “I didn’t even know he was a Tuskegee Airman. He is a very humble guy. He is very easygoing. I have never — one of the things my mother told somebody recently that she didn’t even realize until I brought it to her attention — I’ve never heard my dad say a negative word about anybody, ever. And that to me is a testament as to what kind of man he is.”
Cozette Washington recalls the time she and her husband played dominoes when they first met and began dating.
“We talked all night and we played dominoes, and he said that for every domino he had, that he got a kiss, and for every domino I had, he got a kiss.”
It wasn’t until after they finished the game that she realized “he was the only one who was going to win,” she said, laughing.
“I was in love with him from the first time I met him.”