STAUNTON - When the local VFW men lifted the white covering from the Captain William W. Green Memorial Monument on Saturday May 20 they were not only honoring a brave local hero, but they were righting a wrong perpetrated more than half a century ago.

The Staunton that Capt. Green hailed from in the 1940s was a racially divided city. The dreams that exist in one's mind, however, are color blind and William Green's dream was to be a pilot. And so, despite living under the burden of discrimination and segregation he went off to school to pursue that dream. When war broke out, he answered his nation's call and became one of the now famous Tuskegee Airman - African-American pilots who proved they were among the best pilots in the nation.

Green served in the European Theater where he proved to be the cream of an elite air corps. All told he flew on 123 combat missions, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal with six oak leaf clusters, and an ETO Ribbon with three battle stars. He earned two more honors after he was shot down and parachuted into Yugoslavia. After being picked up by Tito's freedom fighters, he helped those resistance soldiers until he could make it back to Allied lines. While with Tito, he became the only American ever to earn the Yugoslavian Order of the Partisan Star, Class III. He also earned a Purple Heart for wounds received when he was shot down.

In 1944 a highly decorated Green stepped off the train platform in Staunton and was greeted by a cheering sea of black faces, but the other half of Staunton did nothing to recognize their hometown hero.

That is until May 20, 2000. The waiting has made the granite monument honoring Green's heroism all the sweeter according to his sons, William and Reginald, who attended the ceremony along with their mother Alethia Green.

"I am so glad it finally happened," said William who lives in Columbus, Ohio where his father is buried. "My father loved flying. That's all he ever wanted to do and he was one of the better pilots."

"This day has been a wonderful experience," said Reginald, who lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa. "The family is extremely proud. Growing up I knew of my father's exploits but not directly from him. He wouldn't share them. He was very modest in that way so it is nice to get this additional recognition for him."

Reginald added that he felt no bitterness in the fact that his father was being honored more than half a century after his wartime heroics. "If we're not growing and changing then we are not moving ahead. We can relish in the moment now," he said.

Part of that growing and changing was due to his father noted William. Capt. Green served in the military through the Korean War and continued to prove he was a top-notch pilot. During those years after WWII, the Green family was stationed in Japan and became the first black family to live on the base at Yakota. "My father is my main idol. He instituted in me the ideas of doing good and doing the right thing and to be a responsible person," said William.

In addition to his sons and Green's former wife, Alethia, several other relatives were in the audience on the armory grounds. Staunton Vice Mayor Rita S. Wilson was the master of ceremonies for the event which included plenty of military pomp and circumstance. The Virginia National Guard posted and retired the colors, and Cathy Shipe sang the National Anthem.

Maj. Edward Northorp delivered both the invocation and the benediction. During his prayers he asked those in attendance not to forget that "freedom was purchased by blood." Although U.S. Congressman Bob Goodlatte was unable to attend, he sent a message asking that Green and his service for his country "never ever" be forgotten.

After the monument was unveiled, a Military Memorial Service was conducted by VFW Post 2216. "When the call of our country was heard, Capt. William Green answered," the chaplain noted.

At the conclusion of the service, a wreath was laid on the monument by Peggy Harris, State President of the Ladies Auxiliary of the VFW and Paul T. Moore, the State VFW Commander. The wreath ceremony was followed by a Twenty-one gun salute from the Virginia Army National Guard and the playing of Taps by Staunton Police Officer Thomas E. Larner.

As Taps was being played, a group of VFW members marched solemnly over to the American Flag which was flying at half staff. Slowly the flag was raised to its full height and then lowered and folded into a triangle. Warner Mills--a veteran, friend of Green's and the inspiration behind the monument--clutched his comrade's flag to his breast, walked over to the Green family and presented it to them.

With the ceremony, flag presentation, and granite marker bearing Green's likeness in bronze, Capt. Green had finally received the recognition and honor he was denied in 1944. For Warner Mills, the man who had worked so hard to make it possible, the day's events left just the hint of a catch in his voice and a tear in his eye.

Green was an inspiration for a teen-age Mills. "I always had a dream about being pilot. I read National Geographic articles, listened to radio programs and went to every movie with an airplane it that I could. I had no idea that Green had that in his head as well. When his brother told me that he was going to become an aviation cadet, I knew then that if William Green from Staunton, Virginia could do it, that I could too."

Mills went on to be just about every kind of pilot imaginable from hopping from airstrip to airstrip as a bush pilot in Liberia to flying Lear jets and it was Green who provided that initial inspiration. During his flying years, Mills admits to "having his feet hanging over my grave" on more than one occasion. He even survived an air crash.

"I didn't understand why I was still alive, but I do now. This job had to be done," he said in reference to the Green Memorial Monument. "I have been thinking about this job for 20 years and things seemed to fall into place once I was back here," he said of the events that have unfolded since he moved back to his hometown nine years ago.

Actually, things fell into place only because of Mills' hard work in educating people about Staunton's forgotten hero and helping to raise the $10,754 it took for the monument.

"The National Guard has been great and the city has been great. To say thank you to the Staunton 'fathers and mothers' is not enough. They gave us $5,000 and the plot of land and helped with all the planning. The civic organizations everywhere gave between $25 and $500. I will tell you what: there are some good people in this town. The people in Staunton are first rate," he said.

A few days before the unveiling ceremony, Mills arrived at the armory in order to see the monument unloaded and put securely into place. The crowd and noise of the memorial ceremony had not yet happened and Mills had a few moments to look at the monument and reflect about the past, present and future. "I was there when it arrived and they put it all together and I felt kind of emotional about it. His (Green's) eyes seemed to follow me. In one sense, we have brought him home."