As the first African-Americans to serve as U.S. military pilots, Romaine Goldsborough and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen flew combat missions in service to their country even as they endured racial discrimination from their own government. In so doing, they helped to end racial segregation in the military and inspired generations of Americans.
Goldsborough, one of two surviving Tuskegee Airmen living in Hawaii, died at home Wednesday at the age of 93.
"He was a national treasure," said Alphonso Braggs, president of the NAACP Hawaii and a close friend of Goldsborough’s. "He was a very, very humble individual, a quiet man, and I felt extremely proud to be in his presence. Just being around someone like him was quite an honor."
Goldsborough was born in North Adams, Mass., and joined the Army Air Corps at age 21. After receiving engine training, Goldsborough was sent to Tuskegee Army Air Field, where he was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group.
Goldsborough spent part of World War II on assignment in Italy, where, he noted in a Tuskegee Airmen-Hawaii biography, "the Italian civilians treated us differently … looked on us with pride."
Such treatment was in stark contrast to the way Goldsborough and his fellow African-American airmen were treated within the U.S. armed forces, where segregation was still the rule and where racial discrimination and denigration were commonplace.
After the war, Goldsborough worked for Republic Aviation in New York, Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in Pennsylvania and General Electric Aircraft in Massachusetts. He also lived in Burbank, Calif., and Fairbanks, Alaska, before retiring to Hawaii.
In May Goldsborough joined fellow Tuskegee Airmen Philip Baham, also a Hawaii resident, and Alexander Jefferson at a special ceremony at the state Capitol, where each was presented a Certificate of Recognition.
"He and the other Tuskegee Airmen are magnificent examples of individuals who faced insurmountable odds yet still managed to rise and achieve an unprecedented record of performance," Braggs said. "They accomplished so much with so little."
Goldsborough is survived by his wife, Dorothy.
A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sept. 21 at Trinity Missionary Baptist Church.