COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The sky above Hilton Carter Jr.’s funeral procession was bright blue and almost completely devoid of clouds. Carter, one of the nation’s first black airmen, used to pierce through skies like these as one of the original members of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Carter was born in New Orleans in 1928 and was 14 years old when the U.S. joined World War II. He joined the Air Force after high school and was soon supporting the 332nd Air Fighter group.
At his graveside ceremony Wednesday, he received military honors, including a fly-over from the Ohio Air National Guard.
But Carter’s life of service did not end when he left the military. He continued to serve in a different fashion — as a public servant in his community and church in Columbus.
Carter was a former Deputy Director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, and one of the first lectors for the Catholic radio/TV and Saint Dominic masses.
Carter and his wife, Odessa, were married for more than 60 years. His brother-in-law, Willie Keaton, gave the eulogy in which he talked about Carter’s love for his grandchildren.
“He always told them to worship God, save half their money, and get their education so they could be successful,” said Keaton. “As he got older, he stressed to them ‘You must vote if you want to change things in this country. Don’t sit around and complain. You must vote if you want to make a change.'”
Keaton said he learned things he never knew about his brother-in-law from the obituary.
“What Hilton was to me: a silent warrior that did not talk his game but let his actions speak for him
. . . with all the racism he had to overcome, he did not let that stop him,” Keaton said.
He closed the eulogy with words he said he could hear Carter sharing with his family.
“I can hear Hilton saying, ‘Odessa, I’ve done all I can. My love is forever,’ said Keaton. “The angels are singing and the Father is saying, ‘Hilton, well done my son, it’s time for you to rest.'”
Letters from Ohio State Senator Hearcel Craig and U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty praised Carter for his service to the community and all of central Ohio.
“Known throughout the community, Mr. Carter will be remembered as one who truly exemplified the meaning of service,” wrote Senator Craig.
“The love, compassion, and kindness he so easily extended to his family and the central Ohio community will remain in the hearts of all of those who were fortunate enough to know him,” wrote Rep. Beatty.
John Mitchell, a friend to Carter and president of the Tuskegee Air Memorial Ohio Chapter, also spoke at the ceremony.
“His race has been run. He and his generation have inspired and made this nation greater than the one that they were born into,” said Mitchell. “We now bury our dead with honor, with dignity, and with social distancing, the new norm, not out of fear, but out of love for one another, caring for one another, sharing responsibility for one another. This is what he would have wanted. It is that part of his legacy that makes him an American hero.”
Hilton Carter received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor a civilian can get from the federal government. He was also inducted into the Civil Rights Hall of Fame by the state of Ohio.
In 2018, he was chosen to be honored as part of the Ford Oval of Honor and was a Grand Marshal of the Red, White, and Boom Parade.
Carter lived a long, full life. He loved and was loved. He served his fellow man.
Hilton Carter was 91 years old.