FOREST HILL, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – He’s part of a legendary group of World War II heroes: the Tuskegee Airmen.
His church family in Forest Hill, Texas is making sure John Flanagan, Jr., 95, knows just how much his service means to his country and his community.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, members of Berea Baptist Church gathered. Pictures are on display and a signboard is ready for signatures and notes. The programs are printed and delicious smells are rising up from the barbecue outside.
The only thing missing is the guest of honor.
“When I went to his house, he didn’t want to go. I said, ‘Brother Flanagan, I’ve been on that barbecue pit all day’,” Larry Christian explains.
They wait a little while longer, and soon the van pulls up. The door opens, and out steps a decorated World War II veteran.
At this stage in his life, John Flanagan, Jr. has earned the right to keep his own schedule. He’s earned the respect of a nation.
He didn’t ask for this attention. Flanagan is here because he’s spent his entire life putting others first.
“It means a whole lot to me,” Flanagan says, with a humble smile.
Sgt. Flanagan joined the United States Army as a teenager, and first served as a communications technician. He fought in the Pacific Theater then enrolled in flight school at Tuskegee Institute – the home of the Tuskegee Airmen.
“I’m so proud to say that I know living black history,” says Desiree Hickerson, Flanagan’s granddaughter.
Hickerson says her grandfather has taught her a lot in life. She always listens when he speaks, and shares his story with others.
“A lot of people say, ‘I don’t even know what a Tuskegee Airman is.’ I’m like, really? I just start throwing out all my facts,” Desiree says.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators. These heroes of World War II served their country at a time when the country did not equally serve them.
In 2007, Flanagan and 300 other Tuskegee Airmen received the Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush.
“I found out in a short period in my life that the country loved me as well as I loved it,” Flanagan says.
A man dedicated to freedom, family and faith, he went on to break barriers in real estate as an appraiser. Flanagan is a founding member of Berea Baptist Church. He’s outlived his two sons and is survived by his grandchildren today.
“I just thought it was important to give him recognition while [these veterans] are alive,” said church member Adrian Knox.
Knox helped organize the event at the church in honor of Flanagan.
“No use in all of us congregating together at a funeral when he needs to know that he will be given those accolades while he’s alive,” Knox says.
For the program, church members, politicians and Sgt. Flanagan’s relatives stood at the alter and gave testimony to the way he has influenced their lives.
They sang, prayed and gave thanks, honoring the past this Black History Month, and praising their own living legend.
“You are a hero. A true American hero,” they told Flanagan.
I had a real good life. I’m still having a good life. I would not give it up for nothing,” Flanagan replied.