A former Iowan shared her unique story with students at Simpson College this week during events honoring the Tuskegee Airmen. Diana Rafalski’s father and uncle both served in the military in World War Two. Rafalski says both her dad and uncle were born in Webster City and later graduated from Davenport High School.
She says her dad, Charles Esters Junior, served in the Army Air Corps, but her uncle was determined to be “decidedly Negro” and was not allowed into the military until the Tuskegee experiment with all black soldiers. Rafalski says didn’t know about her uncle, Maurice Esters, until her mother died in 2006.
Rafalski says she had to hire a locksmith to open her mother’s cedar chest, and when it was opened, she found her uncle’s air medal and his purple heart. She went on the internet and found out her uncle was a Tuskegee pilot. Rafalski says her father had passed for white all his life and she never knew about her African-American heritage.
Rafalski says her father told her about how her uncle went missing after his plane went down in the water, but said it was a friend, and did not tell her they were related. Rafalski says he had bailed out of his plane and climbed into his dingy and waved to the other pilots that he was okay. She says the other pilots had to leave him, and to this day they don’t know if he was captured by the Nazis or was rescued by the partisans and decided to stay hidden until after the war and decided to stay in Europe where he was treated better.
Rafalski says learning about her uncle was a surprise, but once she overcame that, she was proud of the role he played as a Tuskegee pilot. Rafalski was back in Iowa representing her uncle as he and other Tuskegee pilots were awarded the George Washington Carver medal from Simpson College.