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Remembering the Red Tails | Loved ones speak on legacy of Kansas City Tuskegee Airman Virgil Brashears

Posted: 5:00 PM, Mar 25, 2024
Updated: 2024-03-28 13:35:26-04
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Editor's Note: Beginning March 25, 2024, KSHB 41 will air a three-part series on the Tuskegee Airmen with a focus on those who were born in Kansas and Missouri. Part one tells the story of Virgil Brashears, a second lieutenant in World War II from Kansas City, Missouri, through the words of his widow. Part two shows how the Tuskegee Airmen's legacy is honored and lives on in Kansas City.

The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen continues as the story of one of those local heroes, Virgil Brashears, is being shared by those who knew him well.

The Tuskegee Airmen volunteered during World War II to become the first Black military airmen, often escorting U.S. white bomber pilots across enemy lines during combat. While the Tuskegee Airmen served their country, they often faced discrimination as they overcame racial barriers in the armed forces.

READ MORE | Learn the stories of 49 Kansas, Missouri Tuskegee Airmen

Of the approximate 1,000 Black men who trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, 49 of them originated from Kansas and Missouri.

From her Lee’s Summit home, 92-year-old Lollie Brashears remembers her airman, Virgil.

“He was very proud; he said, 'I gave it all,'" Lollie Brashears, the wife of late Tuskegee Airman Virgil Brashears, said.

Lollie Brashears reminisced on her marriage.

"We had a wonderful, wonderful marriage," she said. “I just wish every woman could find a husband like Virgil."

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The Brashears were married for 38 years before he passed in 2002.

She often looks back at their memories and the photos she can hold.

Brashears wrote a poem detailing the life and loss of her airman.

“When first we met, you stood tall and grand; I knew for sure you were the man," Lollie Brashears said as she read the poem aloud to KSHB 41. "Your back and your shoulders were oh so strong; I leaned on them when things went oh so wrong. For 36 years, we lived and loved until the man above took you and left me here all alone."

There are many things she holds close, including photos of his plane and a photo of Virgil, where he stood as the only Black man among his fellow officers.

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“You can see that in his face — I’m one of them. I’m a proud officer in the United States Air Force," she said.

Lollie Brashears said as Virgil made his way to the top, the realization of precedence always lingered.

“His mother always told him, 'You have to remember, there are no Black pilots nowhere in America,'" Lollie Brashears said.

But she says it was her husband's goal to become a trailblazer for other Black men.

"He always thought, 'I’m doing this to make a way for other Black young men,'" she said. "All his life, he wanted to be a pilot when he was 6 or 7 years old. His daddy would take him to the Kansas City Municipal Airport and watch planes go by through the fence."

The first time he was inside a plane during training at the Tuskegee base, he faced danger, but not from his enemies overseas.

"They don’t realize what these guys went through," Lollie Brashears said. "He said they would take them up and threaten to push them out of the airplane; they were trying to learn to fly the airplane."

His journey wasn't easy and didn't come out with barriers, according to his wife.

"Virgil also flew a plane full of enlisted men over here to Kansas City while he was still in training," she said. "They wouldn’t even let the plane land over there because he was Black."

Time and time again, facing adversity, the Tuskegee Airmen completed their missions.

The tails of their fighter planes were painted red, and they buzzed by while escorting white pilots and destroying German planes.

"He did say a lot of times, the German fighter pilots found out that these guys were Black," Lollie Brashears said.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat who represents Kansas City, spoke on their legacy.

"The Germans called them the black birds; they were scared of them, there was something magical about them because they were so successful," he said.

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Their success wasn't honored until six decades later when Congress issued the Congressional Medal of Honor to the Tuskegee Airmen in 2007.

But, many had died, including Virgil Brashears.

Back at home in 2007, Cleaver recognized Kansas City's local heroes at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, making sure their families received a Congressional Medal of Honor. Lollie Brashears was there to accept the award on Virgil's behalf.


"They started calling our names," she recalled. “Most of those guys never saw what is coming now; they never got to see a Congressional Medal. They got it, but they were already gone. I feel awful it was too late, but better late than never."

Cleaver said he can't forget their legacy, and had a special message for Lollie Brashears.

“Congratulations, you’ve done good by marrying a hero, and I know the grandchildren and great grandchildren will keep the story alive for unborn generations," Cleaver said.

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Lollie and her daughters

Lollie Brashears wants today's children to know their aspirations can come true, especially with the encouragement of family.

"I want folks to know it has to start early — you have to support your child and his dreams because if (Virgil's) father had not supported him and his dreams, he would have never made it," Lollie Brashears said.