Tuskegee Airman Bill Norwood teaches life lessons at Laura Wood Elementary School

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Captain William R. Norwood's life is filled with firsts. He was the first African-American quarterback at Southern Illinois University, among the first African Americans to fly B-52 Bombers for the Air Force, and most notably, he was the first African-American pilot and captain at United Airlines.

Norwood and his colleagues from their Tuskegee Airmen Chapter in Arizona traveled to the city's West Side Wednesday, to teach life lessons to students at Laura S. Ward Elementary School.

"You will fail, but failure is not permanent. You get up. Dust yourself off, and move on," said Lt. Col. Paul Smiley, a Tuskegee Airman.

"The first thing my parents told me was you had to be twice as good to get half as far, and that kind of stuck with me," Norwood said.

Norwood grew up without indoor plumbing in segregated Centralia, Illinois. Over the years, he dealt with the slings and arrows of racial discrimination, but never let it stop him. When he retired 23 years ago, the love and respect for Norwood was and remains without measure.

Years ago, it was his grade school principal, an original Tuskegee Airman who inspired Norwood. So for years, Norwood has sought to inspire those who follow.

The United Airlines Boeing 727 that's hanging at the Museum of Science and Industry has beared Norwood's name since 1996. It's of one the many planes Norwood actually flew.

Some of the students from Ward Elementary visited, with questions and their own take on how to face the future.

"I refuse to take a fall. After every fall you have to get back up, because when you stay down, you're down forever," said Claviante Johnson, an eighth grader.

Norwood said there are never too many life lessons.

"No, I'm not special. The only thing is I worked hard, and if I ask you to work hard, you'll be surprised at how successful you'll become," Norwood said.
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