Parallel Lives

Ex-military pilots had parallel lives, but strangers until recently

Herbert Heilbrun says he owes his life to the Tuskegee Airmen. In World War Two, the 332nd Fighter Squadron from Tuskegee, Alabama, was a segregated unit of black fighter pilots who became legendary. They flew small fighter jets that escorted B-17 bombers to protect them from German attacks. Because of segregation, the pilots took off from separate airstrips. Heilbrun never met the escorts that protected him. That was until six years ago. Heilbrun went to a Tuskegee reunion in downtown Cincinnati and met John Leahr. Both men are now 84 and good friends. They grew up on the city's east side and even were in the same third grade class but didn't remember each other. They discovered from their flight records that Leahr had flown missions protecting Heilbrun's bomber.