121st ARW honors Tuskegee Airman at track dedication

  • Published
  • By Story and photos by Airman 1st Class Tiffany A. Emery
  • 121st Air Refueling Wing

The 121st Air Refueling Wing, Ohio honored Staff Sgt. Malvin Whitfield, a Tuskegee Airman and five time Olympic medalist, in a track dedication ceremony at 9:30am at Whitfield Track on Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Ohio August 2, 2018.

The track dedication falls on the 70th anniversary of Whitfield becoming the first active duty service member to win an Olympic gold medal in the 800 meter event at the London Games on August 2, 1948.

During the ceremony there were three unveilings.  First, there was a street sign unveiled naming the street in front of the track as Whitfield Way.  Second, there was a sign unveiled at the track that designated the track with the name Whitfield Track.  Third, there was a plaque unveiled that dedicated the track in honor of Whitfield.  On the plaque is two photos of Whitfield, a summary of his military and athletic career and a quote about him from former United States President Ronald Reagan.   

Donald Elder, a former crew chief assigned to the Tuskegee Airmen at Lockbourne Air Base, Ohio, now Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, was in attendance and along with Col. Mark Auer, the wing commander of the 121st ARW, unveiled the plaque that is at the track.

Elder, who knew “Mal” as he called him, said in reference to the ceremony “It’s a great honor that he has earned and it’s well deserved.”

Whitfield became known as “Marvelous Mal” as a result of all his successes.  He joined the Army Air Forces in 1943 as a Tuskegee Airman.  After World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen were assigned to the 477th Composite Group, Lockbourne Air Base. 

While at Lockbourne, he attended classes at The Ohio State University and ran on their track team.  His first Olympic gold medal in the 800 meter event was in an Olympic record time of 1 minute and 49.2 seconds.  He went on to win one more medal at the London games and three additional medals at the Helsinki games. 

Whitfield was elected to the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame, the National Track and Field Hall of Fame and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame.

Maj. Jody Schweickart, the executive officer with the 121st ARW, organized the event. 

She said, “We are incredibly lucky that our base has an awesome history.  Through events like this one, we ensure that history is communicated and known to all Airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines that serve within our perimeter, so they can know their heritage and be proud to serve here. “Marvelous Mal” was an inspiration in 1948, and his legacy will continue to inspire anyone who uses this track.  We will see his face every lap we run and remember:  through hard work and dedication, we can all triumph over adversity.”