Lt. Col Edward P. Drummond, Jr. taught his three children there was nothing in life they couldn’t overcome.
Drummond, part of the last graduating class of renowned African American pilots trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama during World War II, proved it by overcoming so much in his own life.
“What dad’s experiences and example showed us is what we could become if we just believed in ourselves and disregarded skin color,” said his oldest son, Edward P. Drummond III.
Drummond, who lived in Lakewood, died Aug. 3 after battling a chronic illness. He was 87.
The Philadelphia-born pilot made the South Sound his home after being assigned to McChord Air Force Base twice during his 25 years of service. After being honorably discharged in 1970, he went to work for the state Department of Social and Health Services and the Department of Licensing until he retired in 1982.
Drummond was the last surviving member of the Tuskegee Airmen to belong to the Seattle-based Sam Bruce Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. He was an ambassador for the local chapter and its scholarship program.
“Ed was a great lecturer. We just loved to hear him tell his stories,” said Thomas Gray, an officer for the chapter. “He will be terribly missed. He was that kind of person you were glad you knew in your life.”
Drummond regularly spoke to Veterans Day gatherings, civic groups and schools in the region about a military career that included tours in Japan, Korea, England, France, Vietnam and Germany.
He also spoke about the sting of racial discrimination in his home country, despite his service as an accomplished combat pilot during the Tuskegee era — a time when Americans were reluctantly convinced that black men could fly.
“I felt like I was in a foreign country at that period in time,” Drummond told a Black History Month audience in Olympia in 1998.
During his military career, he flew the B-25, P-47, F-80, F-84, F-86D and F-106. He was one of the first two black pilots to fly jets into combat during the Korean War, where he completed 104 missions.
“He really was anxious for young people to take charge of their lives,” Edward P. Drummond said. “He encouraged people to get into aviation because that’s something that is really close to his heart.”
The Drummond children watched their father deal with racism as they grew up. And while they were protected from prejudice to some degree while living on military installations around the world, it was still present.
It wasn’t until they got older that they understood the historic significance of their father’s position as a Tuskegee Airman at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement.
“Dad’s example showed us how we are united as Americans and that colors are irrelevant,” Edward P. Drummond said. “Despite its imperfections, he believed that this country would come to a point that it could realize its better self.”
The elder Drummond achieved Command Pilot status with 5,700 flying hours and received service awards including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 8 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Purple Heart, Air Force Commendation Medal, Joint Services Commendation Medal, Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal and the Distinguished Service Award.
In 2007, he was among the Tuskegee Airmen honored with the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington, D. C. and received an honorary doctorate degree from the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In 2012, he was one of four Tuskegee Airmen honored at the state Capitol in Olympia.
One trait the Drummond children found most remarkable about their father was his ability to make them feel like he was their best friend, Edward P. Drummond said.
“He was warm and caring and he was a good listener,” he said.
The Southern California resident hopes to release a book about his father by the end of the year.
Despite battling chronic illness, Drummond’s death was unexpected. He had been in the intensive care unit at Madigan Army Medical Center since the end of June and was transferred to Seattle last month.
His family — including wife of 65 years Alberta Morris Drummond son Michael Morris Drummond of Seattle; and daughter Sheryl Drummond Halliburton of Phoenix, Arizona — took turns by his bedside. They shared stories and watched Mariners games and golf with him.
“We were always close as a family,” Edward P. Drummond said. “That will not change with losing either of our parents. My father knew that before he left this world. He knew we’d be OK if he left us.”