Tuskegee Airman's legacy ripples through family, time

  • Published
  • By Nick DeCicco
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — When Marilyn Beecham-Hood was younger, she didn't grasp her father's legacy.

Her dad, 1st Lt. Newman Camay Golden, a Tuskegee Airman and World War II prisoner of war, was killed in action in 1951 during the Korean War, when Beecham-Hood was 9 years old.

Her mother kept Golden's memory alive, showing Beecham-Hood and her brother their father's medals, telling them how she helped Golden study for tests. In the first years after Golden's death, Beecham-Hood said she took the sight of the photo album as a warning sign.

"My brother and I used to say, 'Oh, no, here it comes,'" she said with a laugh. "We didn't understand the magnitude of what my dad represented, as a black man, especially, and as a pilot. But as we got older, of course, we understood more.

"She kept him visible in our minds. She didn't just let him fade away. It was like she kept his memory [alive]. … She was always showing us the proudness to be black."

Golden's service and sacrifice make Beecham-Hood a Gold Star Family member. She recently visited Travis Air Force Base, California, to receive a Gold Star Family identification card, when she met Suzanne Black, Air Force Families Forever program manager at Travis' Airman and Family Readiness Center.

"It was an honor to meet Mrs. Beecham-Hood and hear about her rich history," said Black. "She is also dedicated to keeping her father’s legacy alive and ensuring her children preserve his memory. She shared pictures of her father, his medals and the day a chaplain and wing leadership arrived at her house to inform her mother of her dad’s missing-in-action status. Additionally, she spoke fondly of her mother and how the loss of her father impacted her mother and their family for the rest of her life. Her mother never remarried."

Black said the card provides access to base for Gold Star Family members for services such as speaking with a certified financial counselor, assistance with finding employment or speaking with a veteran’s service officer for counseling support.      

"The Air Force and the nation will forever be in debt to our Gold Star Families for the service and sacrifice of their loved one," said Black. "While I can never ease the grief associated with their loss, I’m committed as the Air Force Families program manager to promote the lifelong connection and appreciation I have for our Gold Star Families."

For families like Beecham-Hood's, keeping the memory of their late service member alive is a continuing process. Now 77 and living in Stockton, California, Beecham-Hood impresses her father's life and service upon her children and grandchildren.

Golden graduated from the Tuskegee Flight School in 1944. The Army sent him to Italy to fly the P-51 Mustang with the 99th Fighter Squadron during World War II. Mechanical problems forced him to bail out March 20, 1945, over Wels, Austria, where he was captured by Germans. He spent the remainder of World War II in the Stalag VII-A prisoner-of-war camp before being released when Allied forces prevailed.

During the Korean War, Golden's P-51D Mustang night fighter was shot down Oct. 17, 1951. His fighter took a direct hit from anti-aircraft fire, burst into flames and crashed. He was initially listed as missing in action, but his status was changed on March 31, 1954, to be killed in action, body not recovered.

Beecham-Hood remembers the 1951 day when Soldiers came to the house in Richmond, California, to say Golden was missing.

"I was outside, playing, like we did in those days," she said. "These three Soldiers came. My mother was really upset and crying. I didn't know the magnitude of what was going on at the time, but I remember these Soldiers coming to the house and later on that day, I found out that my dad had been shot down."

Beyond his service, Beecham-Hood said her parents were "staunch advocate for the rights of people" in the 20th Century fight for civil rights. When she was 4, her mother fought to integrate the swimming pool on a base that was segregated. Her father was active as well.

"Dad was picked up by [military police] because he was so outspoken in life about things going on on the base," she said. "It was something about the black soldiers being hassled on the Army base. He was picked up as a leader of trying to get things the right way."

Now, Beecham-Hood works to carry Golden's memory forward. She's traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend POW/MIA events, bringing her grandchildren. In 2015, she was invited to Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon, California, for the installation of a plaque commemorating Golden's memory.

"I don't want [him] ever to be forgotten in the Golden family," she said. "He was a man who believed in his country. He was a man that thought that there should be changes in the world, but what he was doing was helping to make that change in the world. He died doing what he wanted to do and he was proud of his station in life because that's exactly what he wanted to do. For an uneducated black man back in the '40s growing up, it wasn't easy, but he never gave up hope that the world would change.

"My dad, to me, was a hero."

Ian Thompson contributed to this report.

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