When the information came out about a portion of Alabama Highway 199 will be dedicated in the memory of the late Air Force Captain and Thunderbird pilot Pete Peterson, it rekindled a long-ago memory.

Our paths crossed when we were students at Auburn University in the late 1960s. I started at Auburn a couple of years earlier (1965) than Pete and was at Auburn the same time as Anthony Lee of Tuskegee, who I also had contact with at AU.

Pete died at the young age of 32 as a member of a four-man famed Thunderbird team while practicing in Colorado in 1982. It was not only a tragic loss to those who knew Pete as a young man growing up in Tuskegee, but it was also a national tragedy.

Many old enough to remember Pete as a young man knew about him playing football in high school and being influenced to become a pilot by the legendary “Chief” Alfred Anderson, who taught Tuskegee Airmen to fly in World War II and remained in Tuskegee until his death in the early 1990s.

While at Auburn, Pete went through Air Force ROTC and was commissioned as a second lieutenant at the time I was going the same route, except my commission was as U.S. Army officer.

But there was another lesser known achievement by Pete at Auburn. He was one of the first — if not the first — black football player for Auburn when he walked on as a receiver after arriving from Tuskegee. That was a full two years before the late James Owens was the first black scholarship football player at Auburn in 1969.

Pete stayed out for football a year or so before opting to pursue his academic interests and ROTC commission.

However, he had a highlight that few have in the spring A-Day football game when he caught a touchdown pass — from future Heisman Trophy quarterback Pat Sullivan.

I was a student assistant in the AU Athletic Department at the time and had been sports editor of the Plainsman, the student newspaper. I got to know Pete briefly and recall writing something about his touchdown.

The thing I remember most about Pete was his wonderful smile and outgoing personality. It’s a shame that his life ended at such a young age. Being honored in his home town is well deserved as hopefully his life well lived may spur others to achieve as Pete did.

Remembering President Bush

Meeting Gold Star Families

When President George W. Bush spoke at Tuskegee University in 2006, it was a while after his speech before the presidential motorcade departed.

While covering the event, I asked why that was the case. I was told that the President was meeting privately with Gold Star families — four or five from the area — who had lost loved ones in Mideast conflicts.

That was one of many such instances that President Bush met privately — with no publicity — showing empathy and compassion for those suffering great losses.

For current President Donald Trump, a draft dodger during the Vietnam War, to question whether former presidents reached out to Gold Star families in effort to politicize such a solemn duty shows that Trump just doesn’t get it — and probably never will.

Guy Rhodes is editor and publisher of The Tuskegee News. He is a former recipient of the Distinguished Alabama Community Journalist Award and multi-time winner in the Alabama Press Association contest for Best Editorial Column or Commentary. He can be reached by email at guynrhodes@bellsouth.net

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