Some people are lost to history along with their exploits, others have the good fortune of being rescued from memory erasure and Second Lt. Walter P. Manning belongs to the latter.
Manning, a member of the world acclaimed black combat aviation unit known as the Tuskegee Airmen, bore a resolve so resolute that when hammer toe was to save him from fighting in World War II, he fell on his own funds and had a surgery so he could fly, having met the physical examination required.
And fly he did. Manning before being lynched on the orders of the German Nazi handlers in Austria had flown more than 50 missions, and a six-time recipient of the Air Medal for heroism.
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However, Manning’s life will be snuffed out on April 3, 1945. He was the only black flier known to have been hanged in Austria during World War II.
But his lynching failed to appear in the newspapers nor was his fate enshrined in museums. No memorial was also held in his name.
Manning from West Philadelphia is said to have been held in a jail cell at a Nazi air force base in Austria with a mob baying for his blood. That is after being battered and beaten.
The Nazi operatives directed that Manning be murdered in the way Americans murdered Blacks in their own land. With that directive, Manning was taken to the nearest lamppost and the orders were executed.
The fighter pilot had escaped death narrowly when he bailed out of his plane after a dogfight, where he’d taken out a German fighter.
He would have forever been lost to history were it not for historian Georg Hoffmann and fellow researcher Nicole-Melanie Goll who created a database in 2016 of the 9,000 Allied pilots killed or shot down over Austria.
“Isn’t it striking that the Germans monitored the lynching of African-Americans in the South of the United States and set loose a similar kind of violence against black airmen?” said Hoffmann.
The Nazi phenomenon of ‘Fliegerlynchjustiz’ saw citizens kill any captured Allied pilots as the air war was all but lost by 1943.
Seventy years on, the historians discovered 150 Allied pilots – 101 Americans – who were murdered on the ground, mostly by civilians. White fliers got beatings or bullets. Manning got a rope.
Their work compelled the Austrian and U.S. governments to mark the spot where the Philadelphia pilot was lynched with a memorial stone in a service attended by high-ranking U.S. military officials.
It emerged Manning’s plane had been hit, when he ejected and drifted slowly down in his chute toward the forming mob who finished him. The American military investigation into Manning’s death was quickly closed, Hoffmann discovered.
It also emerged American liberators soon discovered his body in a shallow grave near the air base. A compassionate civilian had marked the spot with a wooden cross. His body was moved to a soldiers’ cemetery in France. No one was ever tried for Manning’s murder.
And that was how this son of Philadelphia was failed by his country despite the sacrifices the nearly 25-year-old made for his nation.