Hemelt: Tuskegee airman sharing his story in Reserve

Published 12:04 am Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dr. Calvin G. Moret likes to say he acquired a commercial pilot’s license before he held a driver’s license and owned an airplane before he owned an automobile.

At 89 years old, the New Orleans resident has lived a full life, from the brink of aerial combat in World War II to musician and community activist.

Moret is the last living Louisiana resident who was part of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black squad of airmen who fought heroically in World War II.

Moret is the guest speaker at next week’s Annual Veterans Luncheon, which begins at 11 a.m. Friday at the Louisiana National Readiness Center on Airline Highway in Reserve.

All veterans and their spouses are invited. No invitation is needed. Call 985-652-9569 to RSVP.

Moret said he volunteered for service right after graduating from Xavier Prep. High School to control more of where he would serve in the Armed Forces.

Moret said he had plenty of mental experience and had studied aviation principles since he was a boy. His role model was his older brother, who was a flight instructor at Tuskegee who learned to fly in 1940 under the civilian pilot training program.

“Even though I was fresh out of high school with a high school education, evidently I had the necessary training and formal education to prepare myself to fill the role as a fighter pilot,” Moret said. “I graduated with a class that started out flying with 72 and graduated with 36. I received my wings Nov. 20, 1944.”

Moret missed flying overseas by four days as the war ended in Europe four days before his squad was set to leave. They had already received their shipping orders, shots and were packed up.

However, the war was still raging in the Pacific so his squad was sent to Godman Army Airfield in Kentucky, where the fighter pilots trained in P-47s, which were long-range fighters.

“Just about the time we became proficient in that, the bomb was dropped and the war ended in the Pacific,” he said.

“My class never did go overseas. We were right there. I was fully prepared. I had plenty flying experience and the application of flying to the military. I think we were really ready to go.

“That is the way life is. You have to take it as it comes. I have often been asked if I was disappointed. As a 19-year-old, I felt I had been deprived of something. After all the training I had undergone, I was unable to use it. However, as 80-something-year-old, I have looked at it in a different light. I didn’t get to shoot at anyone, but no one shot at me either.”

Never intending to make the military a career, Moret was granted a discharge Jan. 31, 1946, having spent just under three years in service.

He and his brother bought a plane, started a flying club and taught a number of people to fly at New Orleans Lakefront Airport.

Despite his experiences as a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, when I spoke to Moret this week, he was most passionate to speak about his work in his family printing business, Moret Press, which was started by father in the early 1930s.

He eventually took over the business and was proud to say his three children followed him into the business, which he stopped running after Hurricane Katrina struck.

Calvin and his wife Bernice have been married 60 years. He is currently battling his fourth bout of leukemia, but told me he is receiving treatment and ready to speak next week in Reserve.

He has another speaking engagement planned July 9 at the World War II Museum in New Orleans.

“I chose to go into the aviation cadet program, and I’m glad I did,” he said. “I received aviation training I would have never been able to afford with flying those fighter planes and all the other training planes that went into it prior to the fighters.

“I flew five different military airplanes and at least that number of civilian airplanes through the years.”

Moret’s life is currently the subject of a documentary film being produced through Siren Studios, which is expected to be complete this fall.

His is a wonderful story. We in the River Parishes are lucky to share in his and all of the other brave veterans who will be honored and thanked at Friday’s luncheon.

Stephen Hemelt is general manager and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.