Captain Eric Mosley settles into the left seat of the B777 with a new face to his right. They exchange the ordinary pleasantries and dive into the pre-departure routine. It’s all business until cruise, when they gain the opportunity to become acquainted. After all, they’ll see a lot of each other over this four-day. First Officer Casey’s interest is piqued when he eyes the impressive silver bracelet of wings on the captain’s right wrist. “Interesting bracelet, Cap’n,” Casey says matter-of-factly, hoping to engage the senior officer in easy conversation.
“My father’s wings. He was a Tuskegee Airman,” Mosley offers with a wistful expression.
FO Casey’s eyes widen while his reaction is a simple, “Wow! There’s some history there, no doubt.”
Taking the bracelet from his wrist and offering it to Casey, Captain Mosley thinks, “Man, you have no idea.” He instructs his FO to make their announcement from the flight deck then adds, “I’ll tell you about him.”
Achievement despite adversity
The story of struggle, perseverance and success starts with the captain’s grandfather, John Sr., born in 1864. As a young man, the elder Mosley left Missouri for Denver in search of opportunity. As a child, he was fascinated by the railroad – a passion that grew as he walked along the tracks gathering coal to supplement his family’s supply. In Denver, already a young widower, he was hired for the esteemed yet arduous job as a Pullman porter. (Pullman cars were railroad sleeping cars that operated like hotels. Pullman porters were the onboard attendants who served the passengers.) The senior Mosley remarried, had children and provided the stability and foundation for his family to flourish despite segregation and prejudice.
His eldest son, who carried his name, was born in Denver in 1921. By John Jr.’s final year in high school, he was a Merit Scholar, valedictorian of his class and had been imbued with the importance of the struggle for civil rights. In the face of adversity and racial prejudice, Pullman porters had created the first labor union for African Americans, helping shape the modern civil rights movement. John Jr. had grown up understanding its importance and was a witness to the constant struggle toward gaining rights in hopes of someday achieving equality.
John Mosley, Jr.’s fondest desire for his future was to become a veterinarian but segregation closed that door. John began his first year of college just as Europe was going to war. Having been an accomplished athlete and scholar in high school, John attended Colorado State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now Colorado State University). Because of segregation, John was one of only nine African American men to attend A&M and was not permitted to live on campus. His roommate and life-long friend, Charles Cousins, was also the son of a Pullman porter – another who had grown up understanding the struggle. John continued to excel in college; was the first African American to play football for the team, becoming an honorable mention All-American, the first African American to play in the Big Seven Conference, he wrestled for the collegiate team and was the first African American to win a regional wrestling championship. Beyond his athletic accomplishments in college, Mosley was academically and socially successful. He was elected vice president of his junior and senior classes at Colorado A&M – accomplishments nearly unthinkable in a time when segregation was the norm.
And, he dared to fly!
In preparation to join the elite flying unit of Tuskegee, Mosley paid for his own flight physical and started taking flying lessons while in college. Despite becoming a pilot, upon graduation from A&M in 1943, he was rejected as an airman for the all-black 99th Fighter Squadron that had been established at Tuskegee in June, 1941. He had failed the physical due to a heart murmur, a diagnosis he believed to be spurious. So, instead of being sent to Tuskegee, he was assigned to a segregated artillery unit, but he declined to go. The disappointment of not being assigned to fly propelled him to write letters to Congress and to the White House. Eventually, as the war in Europe was ending, he was given the right to join the airmen of Tuskegee and become a pilot in the historic flying unit of the Army Air Corps. Of this struggle, he often said, “I had to fight for the right to fight.”
Mosley married his high school friend, Edna, in 1945 and transitioned to civilian life from the Army Air Corps in 1946, but he maintained his commission as a first lieutenant in the Air Reserve. He earned a master’s degree in social work in 1948 while he worked for the YMCA organization in Denver and Kansas City, Missouri until he was recalled to active duty in 1950. His second stint in the military, this time in the new Air Force, provided a variety of staff and combat operational positions in Europe, Southeast Asia and stateside before his retirement in 1967 as a lieutenant colonel.
Believe In Yourself
After retirement from the military, he continued to serve his country in the U.S. government in a variety of honorable positions with responsibility. For a time, he was in Washington, D.C. as a special assistant to the undersecretary in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (now Health and Human Services). He remained perennially active in the fight for equality, dedicating time and energy to civic and professional organizations.
Use Your Brain
Throughout his life, Mosley was a persistent force for civil rights and opportunity for African Americans. His wife, Edna shared his passion and devoted her life’s work to the struggle for civil rights, too. She was a key staff member of the Civil Rights Commission of Colorado, and one of her protégés is Denver’s current mayor, Michael Hancock. Mrs. Mosley was instrumental in launching the very successful Women’s Bank to help women procure loans to start businesses in the 1970s and 1980s. The four children John and Edna had together couldn’t help but be influenced by such accomplished, dedicated visionaries.
Once a Tuskegee Airman, always a Tuskegee Airman
Opportunity was Mosley’s life’s work — making it for himself and countless others. While affiliated with the YMCA, he began The Swoop Club to introduce young people to flying and to foster enthusiasm for careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Furthering the theme of mentoring youth, he helped found the Denver chapter of Tuskegee Airman International (TAI). As a national association, the alumni of the Tuskegee Airman, and those who participate in TAI have dedicated their organization to recognizing the immeasurably valuable service these brave men contributed to the war effort and to their role in advancing civil rights. Today, TAI offers programs to introduce young people of all ages to aviation and science by providing scholarships. They also bestow the Tuskegee Airman Award upon deserving high school cadets who are in the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AF JROTC) program.
Be Ready To Go
Expect To Win
CAF Red Tail Squadronwww.RedTail.org
This site is “America’s Tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen.” The founders have committed to keeping the story of the Tuskegee Airmen alive by educating people of all ages about the contributions and sacrifices that the first black military pilots made for their country.
“I take great comfort knowing that my father’s perseverance and positive outlook continue to inspire not only me and my family – but so many others. I wear this bracelet to honor him and to always remind me of the meaning and purpose he gave to his life – and mine. I had four others made; for my twin sons who are Air Force officers, for my nephew who graduated from the Air Force Academy and for another nephew who flies commercially. Dad stood for so much and his principles still guide us all.
“See the engravings? Isaiah 6:8 for ‘I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.’ The dates are for his pilot training class and mine, 44G and 82-05.
“He lived by six principles that he quoted often – he called them his Rise-Above Principles:
Aim high, believe in yourself, use your brain, never quit, be ready to go, and expect to win
– my favorite.
I was a C-130 pilot so the final engraving on the bracelet, Stand in the Door represents the final command before the paratrooper jumps. Dad believed that you have to always be at the door, ready for the challenge ahead.”
FO Casey sits silently for a moment then offers, “Captain Mosley sir, I am honored to hear your father’s story and I am truly touched by how he lived, but mostly what he stood for. And you are carrying that on. They say you never know the impact you have on others, but I have to say, his story comes just when I need to hear it.” Casey pauses before adding, “Your father’s story has given me a new perspective. I’d really like to tell you why on our next leg.”
Captain Eric Mosley nods with a knowing smile and takes a moment in silent reflection. “Dad, you’re still working it,” he thinks, gazing beyond the horizon.
Based at SFO, United Airlines Captain Eric Mosley flies the B777. Learn more about Captain Mosley and his own contributions to one of his father’s many legacies, the Hubert L. “Hooks” Jones Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen International in Denver, Captain Mosley’s home.
The Edna and John W. Mosley P-8 (pre-K through 8th grade) School in Aurora, Colorado has as their mascot, the Red-Tailed Hawk to honor and commemorate the Tuskegee Airmen.
John W. Mosley received an honorary doctorate from Colorado State University in 2004 and was inducted into the university’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.
The facts contained in this piece reflect just a small part of the impact that John and Edna Mosley made in their communities and in the lives of scores of young people, most especially who have been recipients of the John W. and Edna Wilson Mosley Scholarship. Learn more here.
Though John and Edna Mosley have departed this life, their gifts are honored and celebrated still through the philanthropic and civic endeavors of their family and those who support the organizations they helped build.