In an uncanny twist of fate, two Tuskegee airmen, who were also lifelong friends, both died last Monday at the age of 91 reports The Associated Press.
Clarence E. Huntley Jr. and Joseph Shambrey were born within six weeks of each other in Los Angeles, where they grew up in the same neighborhood and ran track. The two had known each other since the 30s.
“They didn’t go to school together, but in the Black community in Los Angeles, mostly everybody knew each other,” said Huntley’s nephew, Craig Huntly, who confirmed the airmen’s deaths.
They both enlisted in the army in 1942, and jumped at the chance to be part of the country’s first fleet of all-Black pilots—the Tuskegee Airmen. In 1944, they found themselves deployed in Italy, and they returned home to California at the same time.
Since their service, the two kept in touch, speaking on a monthly basis and regularly visiting each other. As time passed, they became part of a dwindling population: Though there were originally 19,000 Tuskegee airmen, there is only an estimated 200 still alive, and most are well into their 90s.
After living intertwined lives, perhaps it should come as no surprise that these two men died within hours of one another.
“As soon as I got the word that my uncle had died, one of the first people I began calling was Joe,” Huntly said. “And I got no answer.”
We send our condolences to both families, and we thank Huntley and Shambrey for their service.