June 6 was the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the day Allied forces began taking the beaches in Normandy during World War II. Each year, there are fewer and fewer WWII veterans able to mark the anniversary. This year, at age 95, Frank Macon commemorated the day by flying a T-6 trainer aircraft.
It was the same type of aircraft that Frank trained with at Tuskegee during World War II. Frank is a Tuskegee Airman. I had the pleasure of meeting him a few days before his flight.
He appears much younger, both in physical abilities and mental resolve, than his age would suggest. Yet still, at 95, he has some unfinished business that is keeping him focused. Frank has a story to tell, and he’s telling it to those who will listen.
His preferred target audience is students. He’s happy to talk to adults, as he did on the day we met when he did a favor for a friend to speak to a group of nursing home residents.
It should be noted that he quickly rebuffed an invitation to move in with the group. Frank still lives in the same neighborhood in Colorado Springs where he spent his childhood. He has no intention of moving any time soon, and despite being a generation older than many in his audience that day, he in many ways seemed younger. Perhaps it is his focus on his childhood so many years ago, and his mission to be an example to children today.
Frank had to overcome many barriers in order to become a pilot. Chief among them was dyslexia, though no one really knew what that was when Frank was in school. He decided at a very young age that he wanted to fly, even though airplanes themselves were still a bit of a proof of concept when he took his first flight at an airfield that is now part of the United States Air Force Academy.
Frank originally didn’t take well to school. Because of the dyslexia, he didn’t learn to read until after many grades had passed, and numbers “jumped all over the page” on him. He was, however, naturally curious and willing to work hard for the things he wanted. In the midst of the great Depression, he would scrape and save doing any odd job imaginable to save up the $4.50 to buy a half hour flying lesson from his friends at the local air field.
He credits a mechanical drawing class with helping him find his niche in school. Once he had that class click, he found a path to make the others work for him too, in order to achieve his goal of being a pilot. It even took him two trips to Tuskegee to become an airman.
Because he didn’t call home during his first stay, his aunt called to check up on him. She let it slip that he was still 17, and Frank got sent home for being too young to be there for the Civil Air Patrol program. Undeterred, he returned home, passed the pilots entrance exam, and returned. His second trip also contained a setback, as he ruptured his ear drum on his last flight before graduation. He ultimately finished his education, but WWII had ended.
Frank wants the kids of today to know that they can overcome obstacles, too. Thus he’s written a book that was co-authored by my cousin Elizabeth Harper. “I Wanted To Be A Pilot – The Making Of A Tuskegee Airman” focuses on Frank’s childhood, including a lot of the trouble he got in because of his mischief. It also includes instructions on how to re-create many of the experiments that Frank was always conducting on his journey of gaining knowledge.
At 95, Frank’s mission isn’t about his own flying. It’s making sure that those sitting in classrooms 75 years after he left Tuskegee can chart their own course despite challenges they face. He wants them to have his same can-do attitude, so they too can gain altitude.