Roy LaGrone immortalized Tuskegee Airmen through art

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"As soon as I got up there, I knew absolutely this is what I wanted to do," said Air Force pioneer Roy LaGrone of his journey from young passenger aboard a Ford Trimotor plane to original Tuskegee Airman pilot turned prolific artist.

As one of many African Americans of his era fighting against the axis overseas and against racial prejudice in the U.S. armed forces, Lagrone trail-blazed from cockpit to canvas after his honorable discharge in 1946.

He studied fine art and drawing at the Pratt Institute in New York, jumpstarting a career that encompassed art direction, book jacket and album cover design and, in 1961, acceptance by the prestigious New York Society of Illustrators as an artist member.

LaGrone's path first led him to Europe after he was drafted into the Army Air Corps as a sergeant. He later received an assignment back to the Tuskegee's 318th Air Base Squadron in Alabama, where he was commissioned as a flight officer.

Following his time in Tuskegee, LaGrone was transferred to Caserta, Italy, a locale he would later describe as the only place in which he could "sit down in a restaurant and be treated like a customer."

After World War II, LaGrone studied art at the University of Florence in Italy before returning to the United States.

LaGrone embraced his Tuskegee Airman roots and devoted himself to the organization's two-fold mission of preserving its heritage and inspiring youth to pursue careers in aviation. His ability to capture the essence of the Tuskegee Airmen and the Air Force in his paintings is apparent to many of his fans, particularly those who knew him best.

"It's a real tribute to us," said William Broadwater, the second national president of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., and one of five documented original Tuskegee Airmen attendees. "The pictures are almost photographic they're so lifelike. We couldn't have any better honor in terms what he leaves behind for future generations."

The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is vividly immortalized because of Roy's artistic portrayals of his fellow Airmen and their exploits. As one of the Airmen who learned to fly at Tuskegee 70 years ago, Roy has been described as a "national treasure" whose artwork will be indelibly etched in Air Force history.