“Work harder than anyone else.” That’s the advice that really stuck with Bruce Williams. It came from his father James R. Williams, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen of World War II who celebrated his 90th birthday on Saturday.
James volunteered for the Army Air Corps in 1943 while he was a senior at Lower Merion High school. He was trained as a pilot in Tuskegee, Alabama and flew a B-25 Bomber with the 477 Bombardment Group. General Julius Beckton Jr. and fellow Tuskegee Airmen Roscoe Draper came to the party held at the Devon Senior Living Center all the way from Washington D.C. All three men grew up in Bryn Mawr and know what it was like growing up when Jim Crow laws were still in effect.
When they were young there was a “blacks only section” at the Bryn Mawr movie theater. James wasn’t even accepted into the military right away. He told Main Line Today in 2011 that he didn’t let that stop him.
Bruce says that despite this his father never let him use racism as an excuse. “Don’t allow anyone to bring you down.” Bruce used Martin Luther King and Jackie Robinson as models who “never complained.”
“If your football coach tells you to run 4 laps, run 5. If your teacher tells you to read a chapter, read the whole book.”
himself was testament to this kind of work ethic. In 1946 he was discharged and then went to medical school. After college he went back into the Air Force around 1960 as a doctor during the Vietnam War.
“If you really want to do something you can do anything.” That’s what Bruce said he learned most from his dad. James used to go around to schools with other Tuskegee Airmen and talk to children about their life during World War II. Given his age James is no longer able to travel and do that but his message still resonates.
Bruce didn’t finish college at first but then looking up to his father’s story he decided to go back and now has a job at a telecommunications company.
“He’s not the type to say you did something good,” Bruce said of his dad. “He doesn’t often show his emotions.”
However, surrounded by friends, family, and former army buddies, Bruce said his father “had a smile on his face the whole time which is rare” as he enjoyed good company and reminisced about his long life.