TARPON SPRINGS — For Mildred Wilson, it was just another opportunity to speak about her late husband's contributions during World War II.
So as the guest speaker at a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration in Pasco County in January, she talked of Staff Sgt. Elmer H. Wilson's efforts as a member of the 332nd Fighter Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces.
"I don't refer to him as a Tuskegee Airman because it's an association that was started after the war," Mildred Wilson said while sitting in her Tarpon Springs home before giving another piano lesson. "They wanted to keep the history alive. On his tomb, it's the 99th Fighter Squadron."
After her January speech, she was contacted by someone who had read about it in the newspaper. She was told that her husband, who died in 1995, was eligible for a Congressional Gold Medal.
"I didn't call," said Wilson, 89. "But a few days later, I got a call from Congressman (Gus) Bilirakis' office asking me if I wanted to be presented the medal on my husband's behalf."
In 2007, President George W. Bush presented the Congressional Gold Medal to about 300 Tuskegee Airmen in the U.S. Capitol's rotunda.
Today at 1 p.m., Bilirakis will present Wilson with her husband's medal at a local church.
"The perseverance and courage exhibited by Staff Sgt. Wilson played an important role in the liberation of millions of people," said Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor. "I am honored to have the opportunity to help recognize his intrepid service, as well as the support and resolve of his wife, Mildred, who served as a constant pillar of strength back home."
The Tuskegee Airmen were America's first black military airmen and served during World War II. They were praised for their work flying combat aircraft against the Nazis while facing discrimination at home.
Elmer H. "Pop" Wilson was inducted into the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1942. He was sent to the 99th Pursuit Squadron at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, where he worked as an armament and camera technician. He earned two Bronze Stars and a Good Conduct Medal.
The Wilsons were married six months before Pop Wilson was drafted in 1941. Mildred went on to earn a master's degree in education and taught home economics in the Philadelphia school district for 19 years. The two had four children and retired to Tarpon Springs in 1988.
"In 1986, I came to stay with a cousin in Tarpon Springs and fell in love with this little town," Mildred Wilson said. "This Greek lady said she had a house on the market she thought I'd like, and when she opened the door, I was like, 'Wow!' I gave her a $50 retainer."
Seven years after the couple moved to Tarpon Springs, Pop Wilson died.
Mildred Wilson still goes to Total Fitness five days a week. She drives a 2007 Toyota Camry that she bought brand new. It now has 5,400 miles on it.
And she continues to tell the story that her husband didn't.
"People don't realize the part that the enlisted men played," she said. "The minute I say Tuskegee Airmen, they automatically think of the pilots. But they had to work as a team, the pilots and the enlisted men. Without the enlisted men, the pilots couldn't fly."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or firstname.lastname@example.org.