He spanned history, from serving in the U.S. military despite discrimination in World War II to tours in two more wars — and a long career as a police detective in New York City. But the remarkable life of Floyd J. Carter ended this weekend, at age 95.
Carter was one of the last of the Tuskegee Airmen, the famous unit whose members overcame both internal challenges and enemy fire as part of the Army Air Corps. For decades after that conflict, Carter flew numerous transport missions in other war zones, including Vietnam.
"We mourn the loss of a true American Hero," the NYPD's 47th Precinct said in a tweet on Sunday. After summarizing his decorated career, the precinct added, "Our Community & Nation has lost a giant."
After he became a police officer in 1953, Carter quickly rose to the rank of detective; he retired from the NYPD in 1980. The flag outside the precinct house in the Bronx was flown at half-staff in Carter's honor.
The New York Daily News reports:
"His NYPD duties included work as a bodyguard for visiting heads of state, and Carter spent time with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Soviet head Nikita Khrushchev, recalled his son Floyd Jr.
"He earned a half-dozen citations for his outstanding police work, and survived a number of shootouts with armed bandits."
Carter retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserves in the early 1970s as a lieutenant colonel, having served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. In the final years of his more than 30-year career, he made history again as "the first African American commander of a heavy jet transport squadron," as Flying magazine reported in 2009.
In an interview for that article in Flying, Carter spoke about the discrimination he and his fellow cadets faced during their training at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. The conditions were a main reason cadets exited the program. Carter said he only reacted once — by buzzing Alabama's Capitol building during a speech by the governor, whom he called "extremely racist."
From Flying, in 2009:
"So I took that B-25 to Montgomery ... it was only about 30 miles away,' Carter said. A broad, impish grin spread across the elderly man's face as he recalled the incident, all these years later. 'It was night, so I knew nobody would see my numbers. And I took that B-25 down low, and I turned up the power, and then I turned up the props.' He paused. 'And you know,' he said, 'when you turn up the props on a B-25, it really makes some noise!' He chuckled, remembering. 'And then I flew right over the top of that building, just to disturb his speech.' "
Carter is survived by Artherine, his wife of many years, along with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Floyd and Artherine Carter met while he was training to be a pilot at the Tuskegee Institute, and she was part of an all-female crew that repaired planes, as The New York Times reported in 2009.