'A true American hero'
Conyers resident and original Tuskegee Airman honored

CONYERS - Vernon K. Sport felt like a celebrity Friday. The 85-year-old Conyers resident - and one of the original Tuskegee Airmen - signed autographs and took pictures with dozens of his admirers during a celebration given in his honor.

The U.S. Post Office in Conyers held a public celebration Friday morning as part of Black History Month to honor Sport and unveil the latest Black Heritage Series commemorative stamp.

"Mr. Sport dedicated most of his life to public service, and in doing so, he influenced the lives of countless individuals," said Conyers Postmaster Tim Payne during Friday's celebration. "We are honored to pay tribute to one of the original Tuskegee Airmen and a true American hero."

Area postmasters, local government officials and Rockdale County residents, along with Sport's fellow original Tuskegee Airmen Wilbur Mason and Val Archer, gathered for the celebration.

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of black pilots who served during World War II.

"The Tuskegee Airmen project was started as somewhat of an experiment because many thought it wouldn't work; many thought blacks couldn't fly planes," Payne said. "In more than 15,000 sorties in World War II, they destroyed hundreds of enemy aircraft in the air and on the ground, and in more than 200 missions, they never lost a bomber they were escorting."

Sport and the surviving Tuskegee Airmen were honored by President Bush and Colin Powell in March 2007 with the Congressional Gold Medal.

On Friday, Sport's wife, Naomi, spoke on his behalf as he watched.

"He's a man of very little words. He's very quiet and a very humble man," she said. "This is an honor. ... I'm happy to see (the community) has come together and made the world better and not bitter."

David Dennis, sales and service associate for the Conyers Post Office, said honoring Sport on the same day as the unveiling the Black Heritage Series stamp was "appropriate."

Dennis said he first met Sport about 10 years ago when he came in to buy a Black Heritage Series stamp of black journalist Roy Wilkins.

Sport, who has lived in Conyers for 18 years, told Dennis how he and Wilkins marched together and knew each other as NAACP leaders and civil rights activists.

"The next day, he brought me a folder with information he printed out about Roy," Dennis said. "Every time we released Heritage stamps after that, he'd always bring me a nice, neat folder. Now I'm always the one here who knows about those on the stamps."

To honor Sport, Conyers Mayor Randal Mills proclaimed Feb. 15 "Vernon K. Sport Day."

Mills read the proclamation, which stated that the Tuskegee Airmen and Vernon Sport paved the way for future blacks in the military and in our country.

"Sport has served - and continues to serve - as an inspiration to generations of young people by triumphing over societal obstacles," the mayor said.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.