Tuskegee Airman to lead Edison Memorial Day parade

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One of World War II’s Tuskegee Airmen will lead the township’s 55th Annual Memorial Day Parade this year.

Charles Nolley, Edison.jpg
Edison resident Charles Nolley, 99, a former “Tuskegee Airman”

Charles Nolley, a 99-year-old Edison resident, has been named the Grand Marshall in the upcoming parade, Mayor Thomas Lankey announced Friday.

Nolley was drafted into the second World War in 1943 and served as one of the first black aviators in the history of the U.S. armed forces.

He trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama to become part of the Army Air Corps’ four squadrons of all all-black servicemen. Nolley flew combat mission over Europe for three years with the 99th Pursuit Squadron.

“Not only is Mr. Nolley a witness to history, he is living history. His story is one of perseverance, dedication, service and success,” Lankey said in release. “We are privileged to have Charles and his wife Martha as neighbors, and we are honored to have him as our parade Grand Marshal.”

The elite Army Air Corps units were made up of nearly 1,000 African American pilots who trained at Tuskegee between 1941 and 194 and helped paved the way for the desegregation of the entire military in 1948 by President Harry Truman.

Nolley, a 1937 graduate of Arts High School in Newark, returned to show business briefly after being honorably discharged as a lieutenant in 1946 and performed in several productions on Broadway. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from Virginia State University and a Master’s degree in dramatic arts from Columbia University.

Nolley would eventually end up at Barringer Prep in Newark, where he taught for years and served as vice principal before retiring.

Selecting a Grand Marshall is the first step in planning the parade set for 2 p.m. on May 28, Lankey said.