ELGIN, Ill. (WLS) -- Melvin Copeland was a war hero, beloved teacher and community leader whose proud legacy of service spans decades. The Tuskegee Airman died last week at the age of 96.
"Give me something I can do to phrase my love for America," Copeland said on a fall 2020 Honor Flight Chicago podcast with ABC7's Paul Meicke. He was still looking to serve his country.
The Elgin man died Friday at 96 after what loved ones described as a remarkable life.
"As a Black man of his generation, literally lived through you know some of the worst, you know discrimination in our history," said Lorraine Shoto, Copeland's cousin. "Melvin wasn't the type to sit by and take it."
In 1943, he left a college athletic scholarship to join the army, where Sergeant Copeland became a trailblazing Tuskegee Airman. Too tall to be a pilot, he helped load ammunition onto those iconic redtail fighters, even as Jim Crow followed him to the European theater.
"I said these guys are like family," Copeland said. "If you got one or two in there that don't like Black people, that's part of what you have to live with."
After the war, Copeland spent four decades teaching in Elgin before spending another 20 years as a social worker. He was always looking to help his community.
"There are a lot of serious and real barriers that you know may prevent you, but you know that you can at least lend your voice to the fight," Shoto said.
Copeland's family said he will soon be honored at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.
Tuskegee Airman, former Elgin teacher dies at 96