|John loved airplanes as a child and visited Lunken airport often to see the planes, hoping one day he too could fly. His chance came with the beginning of World War II, but he still had a challenge to overcome. He had a badly damaged leg as a child that would cause him to be classified by the selective service as 4F limiting his opportunity to serve in the military. He volunteered for the new Black Army Air Corp but was told he could never be a pilot. He convinced the selected service to reclassify him to 1A and he made his way into the Air Corp.
John graduated from the Tuskegee Army Air Corp Flying School in July 1943, Class 43-G-SE as a 2nd Lieutenant. He was assigned to the 332nd fighter group and flew many missions across Europe escorting bomber flights as a P-51 Red Tail fighter pilot. He left the military as a 1st Lieutenant prior to returning home to Cincinnati.
After the military, he returned to Cincinnati and worked about 9 years at the GE Engine plant before becoming one of the few Black’s listed as a stock broker on the New York Stock Exchange. Leading up to his retirement he worked about 10 years as an administrator for Cincinnati Gas and Electric. He spends much of his time today sharing his experiences as a Tuskegee Airman.
A few years ago attending a Tuskegee Airmen convention, John learned one of the B-17 bombers that he had escorted during the war was piloted by a former Cincinnati North Avondale Schoolmate, Herbert Heilbrun. Becoming personal friends they have a rich story to tell about segregated life in Cincinnati and the military and they share it often.
On October 16, 2003 John Leahr and Herbert Heilbrun were honored by the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations for their efforts in promoting interracial understanding. They are both members of the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen.