Honoring our Veterans: A Tuskegee Airman Flourishing in Affordable Housing

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“It was a Godsend to be able to find love again. My son had a nice house and would bend over backwards to help me, but I wanted independence and to live on my own… and I didn’t know that I would also find a partner to share it all with.”

– Al Mayhew

At Homes of Hope we truly believe that each family we serve in housing has a story to tell. When we developed the Olive Branch Cottages in the Sans Souci community of Greenville, we knew affordable housing for local Senior Citizens was a great need. We house four families there, and the story of one couple, newlyweds Alverne and Betty Mayhew, is a special glimpse into American History and an honor to share.

Long Island native, Al Mayhew was born to a decorated WWI Veteran. His father was a highly-respected Shinnecock Indian and wounded veteran awarded the Croix de Guerre French honor for bravery for his military service. No doubt influenced by his father’s legacy, Al’s love of his country led him to delay his college education at Columbia University to join the Army as WWII began.

“I would visit airbases and check out the people working there. American traitors were giving away US secrets to the Germans and we would try to infiltrate and pick them up. These traitors would inform the Germans about our ships leaving the harbor, including the names of our troops, rank, and serial number. The Germans would sink whole shiploads of airplanes, food, and trucks. We lost men, materials, and supplies. I did this for a year, but I really wanted to go to Tuskegee.”

Al’s dream was to become a Tuskegee Airman. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the United States armed forces. The Tuskegee Airmen started training in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1941, when blacks were still relegated to noncombat tasks in the military and segregated from white servicemen. Al trained to become a flying officer and was assigned to Ramitelli Airfield on the Adriatic Coast of Italy. The main thrust of his mission was interdiction—interfering with German forces and disrupting their advance by shooting down their planes, trucks, and buses. Together with his comrades of the 332nd Fighter Group, they forced the Germans to eventually withdraw.

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Al flew in Italy for three months before returning to the States to finish his service with the Army Air Corps. Not long after his discharge, he would go on to join the US Air Force as a jet pilot and become selected to build the U-2, America’s spy plane, used to collect CIA intelligence photos of the Soviet Union. He also served as an instructor on the Air Force’s supersonic fighter bomber, the F-105 at Luke Airforce Base. Al would eventually finish his military career in 1962 and go on to retire from Pratt Whitney, after seventeen years as an aero-nautical engineer. Later years would see him as a teacher in New Haven public schools, and as a program director of senior centers in New England.

When Al became a widower in 2009, he moved to Greenville to live with his son. A local senior center would become the scene of his newest adventure. That’s where he would meet Betty, a retired textile worker and loving grandmother. She recalls it like this, “We used to ride the same van and I turned around to talk to him. I invited him to dinner and we started talking. After that he started calling me every day after he got home from the center. It wasn’t even a year and he asked me to marry him!” They would wed on November 19th, 2011—on her birthday. “I was her birthday present,” Al jokes.

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Now three years since their wedding, the Mayhews still interact like newlyweds. Alverne likes that Betty makes their home beautiful and comfortable. Betty loves when Alverne sings her Frank Sinatra tunes at breakfast. They feel blessed to have found love again. “I wish I had found him sooner,” Betty confesses. “He’s a wonderful husband.”

Once married, the Mayhews needed to expand beyond Betty’s one-bedroom apartment. Affordability was also a factor due to their limited incomes. A home at our Olive Branch cottages was perfect for them. “We love our home now.”

Alverne and Betty continue to stay active and still visit the senior center nearly every day. Throughout the past year Betty has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She is proud to report that she is cancer free and will complete her treatments in December of 2014. Betty’s faith has kept her strong throughout this process. “I know that it was God who healed me,” she said.

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When her treatments conclude they hope to take a trip together and spend more time with their grandchildren. We are proud to house this couple, one an American hero and the other a breast cancer survivor—together a sweet couple who are flourishing in their home & in love.

Homes of Hope relies on the gifts of the community and individuals to develop safe and energy-efficient affordable housing. Financial gifts make this hope possible for our 679 South Carolina residents, many of whom are senior adults on fixed incomes. We invite you to make a gift this Thanksgiving season. 

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* Special thanks to Jane Howard Photography