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Oldest Documented Tuskegee Airman Passes at 106
By Cora Jackson-Fossett Staff Writer
Published November 3, 2016
Walter Crenshaw in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1945. (Courtesy Photo)

Walter Crenshaw in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1945. (Courtesy Photo)

Walter Crenshaw, Jr., the oldest living documented original Tuskegee Airmen, passed away Oct. 7, 2016, at the Veterans Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 106-years-old.

As a member of the famed group, he served as an Administrative Assistant to the Provost Marshall at Tuskegee Army Air Field where he oversaw the induction and background checks on the initial 500+ recruits and came to know each cadet on a personal basis.

Walter Crenshaw’s distinction was lauded by many organizations more than 50 years later. In 2008 at the age of 99, he witnessed his military achievement enshrined in the National Historic Site of the National Museum of the Tuskegee Airmen in Tuskegee, Alabama.

He was honored by the California African American Museum in 2009. In 2013, the city of Torrance presented Crenshaw with a bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal, to which he replied, “It’s about time!”

President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress bestowed the original Congressional Gold Medal to all Tuskegee Airmen, including Crenshaw, in a ceremony on March 29, 2007.   The medal is now displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C.

Also, 51 of Walter’s original documents from his Tuskegee days are displayed at the NMAAHC.  The exhibit includes his photographs, identification cards; training materials, travel orders and meal vouchers.

A memorial service will be held for Crenshaw on Friday, November 18, at 11:00 a.m., at First A.M.E. Church in Los Angeles. He was a long-time member of FAME and attended services as much as possible.

Crenshaw at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles in 2009. (Courtesy Photo)

Crenshaw at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles in 2009. (Courtesy Photo)

A native of Alabama, Walter was born on October 27, 1909, in Butler County, New Hope, to Walter and Viola (Glover) Crenshaw. After graduating from Industrial High School in 1927, he attended one year at Tuskegee Institute before transferring to Alabama State University.

Walter married Zelma Whatley in 1940 and two years later, he was inducted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He received his administrative training at the Army Air Corps School in Ft. Logan, Denver, Colorado, on a manual typewriter, creating column upon column of information.

Upon completing his military service, Walter lived the next three decades in Detroit, Michigan, working 22 years as the head shipping clerk for Railway Express Agency. Relocating to Santa Monica, California, with his wife in 1977, he enjoyed life on the west coast and attended classes at Santa Monica. Also, he organized and served as president of the Oakwood-Venice Beach Senior Citizens.

A family member shared, “Walter was a regular fixture on the Santa Monica Pier, fishing, during the late 1970’s and 1980’s. He could be seen riding his bicycle to the pier, from his home, at least four days a week.” Walter and his wife relocated to South Carolina in 1997 and stayed 10 years before returning to live in Redondo Beach.

Throughout his long life, he was known as a stylish dresser, an avid crossword puzzle solver, collector of jazz albums and a world traveler.

When asked about his longevity, Walter responded, “Always remember to take a vacation.” He and his wife, Zelma, traveled the U.S and abroad, visiting Atlantic City, Chicago, New York City, Denver, Mexico, Holland, Egypt, Israel, St. Marten and Canada.

Walter’s daughter, Waltzela Crenshaw Coleman and his grandson, Andre Crenshaw, preceded him in death. He leaves to cherish his memory, his daughter, N. Joyce; sons, Lamont, Maurice and Andre (Delilah) Crenshaw; and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Categories: Celebration of Life | Crenshaw & Around
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