by Andrew Crisp
In their first trip to Idaho, 73-year-old Walter Suggs, president of the Tuskegee Airmen chapter in Sacramento, Calif., and 88-year-old Leonard Yates, one of less than a
hundred few living Tuskegee airmen who saw action in World War II, will head to Twin Falls May 23 for a young boy’s fifth birthday party.
“I decided—we got 66 Tuskegee airmen chapters across the United States,” said Suggs. “We were the only chapter that volunteered.”
Forming the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps, the Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American aviators in the U.S. armed forces. The men were often nicknamed "Red Tails" for the color they painted their planes.
Glen Thorne, himself a Navy veteran, reached out to bring the two men to his son’s birthday, writing letters to Tuskegee chapters across the country, making phone calls for three months. Suggs said he and Yates were inspired by the small boy’s habit as an emotional tribute to American soldiers.
“Every time he saw a black man, he would go up and say, ‘Are you a Tuskegee airmen?’” said Suggs, a 24-year veteran. “And little Quinn would say, ‘Are you a veteran?’ and little Quinn would say, ‘Thanks for your service.’ I became emotional. I had tears in my eyes when I read that.”
Quinn Thorne first made news after he went up to an elderly gentleman wearing a Navy cap in Costco on a Saturday in Twin Falls. He pulled at the man’s pants leg. The man was Wayne Goetz, a veteran of an ammunition ship he served on after joining the service when he was 17 years old.
Goetz was touched by the experience. He wrote a letter to the editor of the Times-News in the Magic Valley:
“This small boy made me remember that he and so many like him were why I did what I did. I will keep doing my duty to honor our veterans. When I feel the tears in my eyes, I will think of this small boy saying, ‘Thanks for your service,’” he wrote.
Quinn’s father commented on the article to explain his son’s actions. While Glen is a veteran, he said he hasn’t sacrificed like other service members. He taught his son that a man in uniform, or wearing a veteran’s cap, had served in the military. Quinn began thanking every service member he found.
“As a father, my job is to try to promote not only education, but also to promote what my son’s interests are. Right now, for the entire year, and last year, that has been the military, the Red Tails and the Tuskegee airmen,” said Thorne.
Now Suggs and Yates will fly into the Boise Airport on Wednesday, May 23. Quinn, his 2-year-old brother Brayden, and his father will pick up the two men and drive them back to Twin Falls.
“Amazed. I’m absolutely amazed that people are taking their time to facilitate my son’s passion,” said Thorne.
Others chipped in to make the day possible. Southwest Airlines donated air fare from Sacramento, Calif., while a regional manager of La Quinta, a subsidiary of Ameritel, pushed to provide free rooms for the two gentlemen during their stay. Winco foods in Twin Falls donated a special cake to commemorate the men, with the Idaho Pizza Company donating food.
“I wish everyone in the United States would teach their children to be like this,” said Suggs. “To walk up to you and pull your pant leg and say, ‘Hi, are you a veteran?’ and thank for your service. Really, that touched me.”