Tuskegee Airman Albert Porché Sr. 'had no idea he would make history'

By JULIA ARENSTAM | The Houma Courier, La. | Published: March 9, 2018

HOUMA, La. (Tribune News Service) — In 1941, Albert Porché Sr. found himself sitting outside a bus station all night, fighting off mosquitoes and rain as a member of the U.S. Army.

He didn't know it at the time, but he was waiting to become a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of black military pilots who broke racial barriers while fighting in World War II.

The 17-year-old from Houma lied about his age to join the U.S. Army and spent two weeks in camp to bulk up, his eldest daughter, Abby Porché-Zachery, said.

"He had no idea he would make history," she said.

After a few weeks, Porché found himself and two other black soldiers being called out to Alabama. Porché and the other soldiers rode bus to the base. When they arrived, it was after dark. The officers weren't allowed to leave the base to pick them up from the bus station because black people were prohibited from leaving the base after dark.

"He was so amazed to see a black soldier with stripes," Zachery said.

Even as Porché arrived to the Tuskegee Airfield, he didn't know the history books he'd find himself in. He was there when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited in 1941, Zachery said. As a bombardier with the 99th Fighter Squadron, he traveled all over the world, visiting war-torn Italy, France and parts of Africa.

"He received better treatment there than at home," his daughter Freddie Mae Porché-Robertson said.

Porché was a forgiving man. The Germans dropped anti-American propaganda on their camps encouraging the black airmen to switch sides, citing America's racism. But he would say "I don't want to be bitter, I want to be better."

That was the way he lived his life.

In 1945, he arrived home in New Orleans and worked as a longshoremen for 40 years, Zachery said.

Still marginalized as a black man, he burned his uniform, Robertson said.

"He had such an amazing thirst for change," Zachery said.

There were many years before the Tuskegee Airmen ever received any recognition, but Porché carried his stories with him and continued helping others. He helped a lot of aspiring blacks get jobs next to him on the docks.

"He was an amazing man," Zachery said.

At 70 years old, Porché went to trade school and learned how to restore antique furniture. He reconnected with his children, three sons and three daughters. He began sharing his stories with them, building relationships with his new grandchildren.

Later in his life, he would visit the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, walking in to the announcement, " 'One of the world's greatest has just walked in,' " Zachery said.

Four years ago, family members ordered him a jacket emblazoned with the Tuskegee 99th Fighter Squadron logo. When people would ask about it, Porché would say, " 'Hell, yeah, I was in it,' " Zachery said.

In the last few years of his life, Alzeimer's disease began to take hold, and his memories of the war faded, but his gentlemanly manners never wavered.

"He never forgot to open the door for a lady," Robertson said, even when he was hardly able to walk through it alone.

Just before he died Feb. 21, Porché was hospitalized with pneumonia, telling his daughters, " 'When Jesus pulls my toe, let me go.' "

He told them it was the last time they would have to take care of him. Four days later, he was gone.

Porché's "Last Flight" was broadcast on WDSU-TV on March 2, the day before his funeral in New Orleans.

Porché lived to be 95 years old. In all that time, he never met a stranger, Zachery said. He will be remembered for his dignity and care for people, but above all, he will be remembered for his infectious laugh.

"He was an awesome man," Zachery said.


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