Bill Herridge was kind enough to give me an interview about the early days of the museum. He had several traveling exhibits he arranged to come to the museum for 6 weeks. He was especially proud to be a part of bringing these to Coryell Museum to show that people of every color helped win the war to keep our freedom.
One he remembers is the traveling exhibit from the Negro Baseball Leagues covering their history from pre-1900, to 1947 when the “color line” fell away. These excellent ball players were excluded from National Baseball Leagues before 1947 because of segregation and the Jim Crow laws. This meant the players had to sleep in the bus, because they could not stay in a motel. They had to eat at the back of any restaurant, usually outside, because they could not come into the front or inside. When the “color barrier” was broken in 1947 the Negro players were allowed in the National Baseball Leagues. Jackie Robinson led the way for baseball integration. The exhibit included photos, placards and 3 sets of free standing lockers, which included a jersey and baseball cap. The lockers saluted the first 11 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees. There was also a 7 minute tape titled “Discover Greatness.” These men finally had the chance to enjoy the freedom of equality.
Another exhibit Bill Herridge was proud to bring to the museum was titled “North America: United for Victory”. This exhibit told about three minorities that contributed to the war effort to rid the world of some tyrants.
Navajo Code Talkers served in the Marine Corp and communicated messages in combat that were undecipherable to Japanese listeners. The code talkers took part in every assault the Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942-1945. No small accomplishment. The first 29 Navajos recruits reported to Camp Pendleton in May of 1942 to create the Navajo Code. They had to create a dictionary and numerous words in Navajo for military terms. Telephone and radio transmissions could be picked up by the Japanese, but the Navajo Code was never deciphered by the enemy. As many as 420 Navajos served in WWII as code talkers transmitting orders and other vital battlefield communications . These men were proud to serve in the Marines to insure American freedom.
The 201st Squadron was the only military unit from Mexico to see combat in WWII. They flew under the command of the 5th Air Force in the Philippines. These brave men liberated the Philippines from the wartime Japanese occupation. These pilots were known in the Mexican press as “Eagle Fighters” and “Aztec Eagles”. Of the 31 pilots who flew for Mexico, and the Allies, seven men never returned. Their service was deservingly decorated by the United States, the Philippines and Mexico for their bravery in the battle for freedom.
The exhibit also included the Tuskegee Airmen who were a group of pilots and ground crew that trained at Tuskegee University in Alabama. This all black fighter group was known as the 332nd Unit and was formed because black Americans were barred from being fighter pilots at the time because of segregation.
Earlier this year the movie “Redtails” was praised by the airmen as an accurate depiction of their honorable service. There is an exhibit of the Tuskegee Airmen at the World War II Gallery of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, in Dayton, Ohio. The Tuskegee Airmen never lost a bomber under their escort care to hostile fire. Their skill and ability helped win the war and kept freedom alive.