The Heights® on Huebner is always a lively place. Certified nurse aides (CNAs) are answering call lights at all hours of the day. Volunteers are flowing in and out of the brightly-lit activities room to spend time with residents. Team members are carrying out their duties with cheerful smiles to brighten a resident’s day.
But on March 22nd, 2019, the San Antonio skilled nursing and rehabilitation community is lively for a different reason. A special event is being hosted in honor of three men, and the legacy they carry.
The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Even if you don’t know who the Tuskegee Airmen are, you can’t miss the chapter members in their sharp maroon jackets. A sea of maroon flows into The Heights on Huebner’s lounge as the chapter members take their seats and mingle with others. The smiles on their faces brighten even more when Dr. Granville Coggs, the guest of honor, and his wife, Maude, arrive from their room at The Heights on Huebner.
Dr. Coggs served from 1943-1946 as an aerial gunner, aerial bombardier, and a multi-engine pilot.
In addition to his impressive military career, Dr. Coggs attended Harvard Medical School after the war and became the first African American to serve as a staff physician at the Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco, California. He went on to become a radiologist and breast cancer specialist. In his seventies, Dr. Coggs began running and was coached by Maude who was a track star in her youth. Dr. Coggs competed in the National Senior Games in 1999 and won eighteen gold medals. He also has a published book, “Soaring Inspiration” that details his life.
Knowing all this, it’s clear to see why team members at The Heights on Huebner were so excited when they learned this extraordinary man would be coming to their community.
“All we all could think about was meeting Dr. Coggs,” said Diana Castellanos, Activities Director at The Heights on Huebner. “When we finally got to meet him we realized he’s a gentle soul who loves his wife and is a very proud American. To be able to learn his and Maude’s history, and see them share that with everyone, made serving him such a joy.”
Diana isn’t the only one who enjoys serving the Coggs. Betsy Bailey, MDS Coordinator at The Heights on Huebner, is responsible for creating care plans for the Coggs. She checks in with residents regularly and loves getting to know them all. As a self-proclaimed World War II buff, she enjoys talking to Dr. Coggs about his experience in the military.
“He tells a lot about how difficult it was for the black men, and how they just kept persevering. Every time someone tried to knock them down they got right back up again. I think that is the thing that stands out about him. He has never let anything stop him.”
Even as his health has declined over the years, Betsy says he has never lost his sense of humor or willingness to fight.
Rick Sinkfield, President of the San Antonio Chapter Tuskegee Airmen, also sees the fighting spirit in Dr. Coggs. One of his favorite memories is when Dr. Coggs was invited to speak at an event in San Antonio. Dr. Coggs was using a walker at the time, and the building didn’t have an elevator. He refused to take a wheelchair, so Rick walked up all nine flights of stairs with Dr. Coggs.
“From the parking lot it took about 20 minutes to get up there, but he did it. He went in front of everyone at the event and successfully delivered the “Gettysburg Address”, entirely from memory.” Rick reminisced on the story with a smile on his face and laughed as he remembered the details.
Rick believes it’s important to continue the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen because it’s a significant portion of history. He and members of the chapter want to make sure future generations know how society got to where it is today, and to know that the Tuskegee Airmen helped pave the way for equal rights.
“I would say they were the precursor to the civil rights movement. They broke the color barrier for African Americans back in World War II, and it led people to continue fighting that color barrier in all areas of the country.”
The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen will last the test of time with so many dedicated Tuskegee Airmen chapter members across the country. Family members of these brave veterans, historians, and World War II buffs will also carry on the legacy.
However, Dr. Coggs’ personal legacy will live on in a different way. It’s true his book will capture his life for many generations to read. His family, friends, and people who know his story will tell it to others. But his real legacy is the impact he’s made on other people.
As an original Tuskegee Airmen, he inspired other African Americans to break the color barriers in their own lives and in the country.
As a physician, he cured and inspired many patients; something they will never forget.
As a friend, father, and husband, he’s been with those he loves through good times and bad, always ready to offer support and wisdom.
As a resident, his stories and sense of humor have brought joy to the lives of those at The Heights on Huebner.
His legacy will live on not only in the books, but in the hearts of those who have met him.