STAUNTON- When World War II veteran Warner Mills talks about Capt. William W. Green,his voice gets husky and his eyes get misty.

The story he tells is powerful, both wonderful and awfulall at once. It is a story of a segregated South when a young black manfrom Staunton could volunteer to die for a place that refused to let himdrink from the same water fountain as his fellow white citizens.

Green and Mills were Stauntonians, raised in a black communitythat demanded quality from its youth. "It was a time in this country'shistory when segregation was the rule of the law...In Staunton, black peoplewere not expected to be achievers, but our teachers at Booker T. Washingtonknew that for us to achieve anything we had to be twice as good, so theywere hard on us," Mills remembers.

When world war came to America in 1941, Green, who wasseven years Mills' senior, was already a hero to the black community. Hegraduated from Booker T. in 1939 and had been at North Carolina A&Tfor two years. while there he joined the civilian pilot training program.

"This was a time when it was believed that a black mandid not have the intelligence necessary to acquire the skills to fly aplane," Mills recalls. But Green came from a family and community thattook such beliefs as a challenge to work that much harder. Afterall, Green'sfather, William Green Sr., had displayed such courage and bravery on theEuropean battlefields in WWI that he got a field commission and a distinguishedservice cross.

"When we were growing up we always called him Capt. Green,"Mills says of the elder Green. "His brother said he had to go through hellto get that field commission."

It was with that character instilled in him that WilliamGreen Jr. took his steps into history in the Second World War. His dreamof becoming a pilot took him to a segregated army airfield in Alabama.The place was called Tuskegee and soon the 1,000 African-American fighterpilots who trained here made history for their flying and combat prowess.The Tuskegee Airman of the 99th Pursuit Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Corpsleft their marks of glory in the annals of aircraft history as no othergroup. Sixty-six of them never came home, killed in action for their country.

Green graduated as a second lieutenant in 1943 and wentimmediately to North Africa where he flew convoy patrols, participatingin dive bombing, strafing and general disruption of enemy transportationand communication lines. According to Mills, these assignments were nice,but Green longed for a little more action.

Soon his wish was granted and he became part of the 332ndFighter Group that was moved to Italy. There the Tuskegee Airmen escortedheavy bombers over Europe. As their reputation grew, more and more groupsrequested the men from Tuskegee.

"Green's outfit never lost a bomber to enemy action andthat is a record that still stands today," Mills says. "Green personallyshot down three enemy pilots and helped take down a fourth," he adds, notingthat five kills are needed to earn the title of ace.

Green's personality was such that he often pushed theoutside edge of the envelope, which is how he found himself in a bit oftrouble one day as he was returning to the Italian base from a bomber escortmission over Hungary. A few years later, while at Godman Airfield in Kentucky,he related the ensuing adventure to a newspaper reporter.

"We decided to go down on deck and look for targets wehad seen the day before. We made three passes at a large barn and on thethird try it exploded. My wingman and I were damaged by the flying debris.We gained altitude, he bailed out and I followed," Green said. The wingman,Lt. Luther Smith, was captured by Germans and later liberated. Green, onthe other hand, hooked up with the Yugoslavian freedom fighters under Titoand fought the Axis behind enemy lines.

"Green was adventurous but mild-mannered. In fact he hadthe nickname of Chubby. Rather than sit around and get fat, he went onhorseback raids with Tito's men," Mills said.

For his bravery, he was the only American ever given theOrder of the Partisan Star Third Class of Yugoslavia, that country's highestaward. That award was added to the many other medals pinned to his chest:The Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with six oak leaf clusters,the Purple Heart, and the ETO with three battle stars.

Green eventually made his way back to his home base witha Russian crew. In 1944 Green, now a decorated combat veteran, came hometo Staunton on leave. It was an event that Mills, who was 17 at the time,will never forget for it was one of the biggest days in the history ofthe city's black community.

With their hero scheduled to arrive home by train, theprincipal of Booker T., D.M.. Crockett, closed school early so everyonecould go meet the train. "I will never forget, the C&O station wasa sea of black faces when the Sportsman No. 5 rolled in. Green steppedoff the train and some of the larger boys picked him up and put him ontheir shoulders and carried him to a waiting car," Mills said in describingthe scene that went unrecognized by the white community.

"Several days later, he came to our class and spoke,"Mills added. "Someone asked him if he had ever been afraid, and he said,'Not until the other day,' referring to when the crowd picked him up andcarried him on its shoulders."

Mills remembers that Green was the biggest hero the African-Americancommunity ever had. "We would get information about him from his sisteror younger brothers and for a while after he was shot down he was listedas MIA. I can't describe what it was like to be there the day he came home.To see this guy with bars on his shoulders...he was like some kind of god.We wanted to touch him to see if he was real," he says of that time morethan 50 years ago.

For blacks in Staunton, Green was an inspiration. Mills,for instance, soon lied about his age and joined the service. He also followedGreen's flight to the heavens, piloting everything from bush planes inLiberia to Leer jets across America. "Capt. Green followed his dream andhe was an inspiration to me as I followed mine. I kept his image beforeme as I climbed steadily upward."

Green went on to serve in Korea and when he left the servicehe had logged 123 combat missions over Europe and Korea. He had achievedthe rank of his father before him and had a chestful of medals. "Fear wassomething that wasn't in his nature. Not bad for a black Stauntonian whowasn't expected to be intelligent enough (by the white community) to bea fighter pilot and a role model for others," said Mills.

Despite his hero status among people as diverse as WarnerMills of Staunton and Yugoslavia's Tito, the city fathers of Staunton neverrecognized Green for his bravery and sacrifice. Green died in 1978 neverearning as much as a thanks from the city's white community. "He was Staunton'shero who wore the uniform of an officer in the Air Corps proudly. He foughtfor his country, community, comrades and himself but the city of Stauntonnever once gave him a 'Well Done, Lt.!' For Shame, I say, For Shame," exclaimedMills.

Thanks to Mills, however, Green will finally get his longoverdue recognition. The veteran pilot who once idolized Green is now spearheadinga project to get a memorial placed at the armory in Gypsy Hill Park. Theproject, which will cost just over $10,000, has the blessings and somefinancial backing from the Staunton City Council. Mills, an active VFWmember, has also written VFW posts across the state asking for contributions.In addition, he is visiting civic groups locally and telling Green's story.

"My only regret is that because Capt. Green was sevenyears my senior I was not old enough to share in his adventure or be hiswingman, but I was able to stand on his shoulders," Mills said.

More than 50 years ago, Mills saw his hero step off asteam locomotive and be elevated above a sea of black faces. The pridethat coursed through young Warner Mills' veins that day took him off onhis own adventure. Soon that adventure will come full circle when the GreenMemorial is dedicated later this year. Chances are that Mills' eyes willagain mist over and his voice will be a little husky as he snaps off asalute and gives his hero that long overdue, "Well done."

Contributions to the William Green Memorial Fund can besent to: Wm. Green Memorial Fund, VFW Post 2216, P.O. Box 2055, Staunton,VA 24402.