Henry L. Moore, 91, one of the Tuskegee Airmen

Posted: September 21, 2012

Henry L. Moore never stopped moving.

Born in tiny Ocilla, Ga., in 1921, he was out by 19, after graduating at the top of Ocilla High's Class of 1940. He moved to Newark, N.J., to escape the poverty and racism that had marked his childhood.

By 1942, he was on a bus full of draftees en route to Fort Dix, and by 1944, he was in Italy, working on B-25 bombers as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen - the first black aviators to serve in the U.S. military. Then it was off to West Virginia State University, where he earned a physics degree, and a career as a naval researcher.

Seventy-two years after he left Ocilla, Mr. Moore was still moving: flying to Las Vegas for a conference with fellow Tuskegee Airmen, driving to Georgia to see family, playing the trumpet on Sundays at a Mount Airy church.

"He had more energy than all of us put together," Mr. Moore's daughter Nadene said Wednesday. "We would call him the Energizer Bunny."

Mr. Moore, 91, died Saturday, Sept. 15, after a heart attack.

Family and friends described him as precise, exacting, and deeply committed to his ideals. He was passionate about integration - he'd witnessed lynchings growing up in rural Georgia - and kissed the ground when he arrived in Italy during the war. "It was the first time he felt free," said his friend Eugene Robinson, a fellow Tuskegee Airman.

When Mr. Moore's two daughters were turned away from a white neighbor's swimming pool, he built his own in the family's Mount Airy backyard. Once his daughters left home, he opened it up to neighbor children.

Mr. Moore and his wife, Mary, whom he met in the registration line at West Virginia State, had been married for 61 years. After a 26-year career as a naval researcher - during which he earned a master's degree in physics at Temple University - Mr. Moore became a teacher in Philadelphia public schools. He taught math and science at Roosevelt Middle School and Abraham Lincoln High School.

He was a strict teacher and "a hard nut to crack," Nadene Moore said. "But he was proud of everybody."

After he retired in 1983, Mr. Moore was active in Tuskegee Airmen Inc., an organization dedicated to spreading the aviators' story. Earlier this year, he was elected the group's national parliamentarian, and, with Robinson, spoke often about his experiences in the war.

"He was very much committed and quite anxious to tell the story of his experience in the combat areas," Robinson said. "He was a crew chief and very concerned about the pilots that flew his airplane - he always called it 'his airplane.' "

At 91, Mr. Moore still drove to speaking engagements. He attended several premieres of Red Tails, a film about the Tuskegee Airmen starring Terrence Howard. Nadene Moore has photos of the two at a premiere.

"Even though he was 91, we did not expect to be without him," she said. "We did not prepare for it."

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Moore is survived by his wife, Mary; daughter Meva Justice; two grandsons; and a sister.

A viewing will be from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, with a funeral immediately following, at Summit Presbyterian Church, 6757 Greene St. Burial will be private.

Contact staff writer Aubrey Whelan at 215-854-2771 or awhelan@philly.com

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