Columbus has a lot of heroes. But few have inspired me as much as Dr. Earl Sherard.
Earl Sherard was born in Columbus in 1924 and grew up in the prominent African-American community of Poindexter Village. A young man in his twenties, Sherard embarked on a journey that would change his life, and frankly all of our lives.
The Tuskegee Airmen
Prior to 1939, no African-Americans were allowed to serve as U.S. Military pilots. During World War II, Congress finally approved funding to train African-American pilots. But the process was rigorous and held applicants to an incredibly high standard. At the time, there were no black flight instructors, so eleven white officers were assigned to instruct the enlisted men and officers, forming the first example of a racially integrated unit.
The program was unpopular at first, with racial tensions across the country escalating. But in March 1941, first lady Elanor Roosevelt traveled to Tuskegee to inspect the training facility. During her visit, she took a half-hour flight with Alfred “Chief” Anderson. When they landed, the first lady remarked, “Well, you can sure fly alright.”
Her approval and the necessity for good pilots provided a much needed and deeply earned turning point for the men of Tuskegee.
On November 3, 1943, 2nd Lt. Earl Sherard graduated from Tuskegee Flight School. By June 24, 1944, the 332nd Fighter Group was assigned a low-flying mission to bombard an enemy supply line near Aircasea, Italy. Among the pilots was 2nd Lt. Sherard.
On that mission, the belly his plane hit the water. Luckily, Sherard was able to exit his plane, walk out on the wing, and inflate his dinghy before his aircraft sank into the ocean. The rest of unit continued on to their mission, leaving Sherard to be rescued by a British ship and returned to the base later that day.
Sherard’s Return to Columbus
Sherard continued to serve as a pilot until 1945 when he was one of the first servicemen mustered out of the military with 96 points. His heartwarming return to Columbus was documented by All-American News.
All-American news made the first newsreels produced for a black audience. The reels were made in the 1940s and 1950s and “intended to encourage black Americans to participate in, and support the war effort, and to reflect an African-American perspective on global and national events.”
A life of service
After his time in the military, Sherard went on to become a pioneer in the fields of pediatrics and epilepsy, serving as the director of the Division of Neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital. In fact, Dr. Earl Sherard was portrayed by Morgan Freeman in the 1987 film, Fight For Life.
The film was based on the true story of Dr. Sherard’s treatment of a young girl suffering from epilepsy and his determination to bring an anticonvulsant drug approved for treatment in the United States in the late 1970s.
Dr. Sherard’s life of service and his accomplishments speak volumes about the content of his character. When we think of Columbus heroes, we should absolutely be thinking of Earl Sherard.
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