Outgoing Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) spoke Monday on the floor of the U.S. Senate on behalf of his bipartisan bill that would rename a post office in the Avondale area of Cincinnati.
“I’m pleased to come to the Senate floor today to speak in support of a bill sponsored by the entire Ohio delegation naming the post office in Avondale of Cincinnati, Ohio, for two World War II veterans, John Leahr and Herbert Heilbrun,” Portman said. “These two remarkable men, one black and one white, grew up in Avondale, which is a neighborhood [that is] part of Cincinnati, Ohio.”
“They dreamed of flying, and signed up for the Army Air Corps after Pearl Harbor,” he continued. “John Leahr flew the P-51 Mustang with the Tuskegee Airmen and Herb Heilbrun flew the B-17 Bomber.”
Portman said the Tuskegee Airmen were assigned to protect the bombers, and that the pair worked together on some of the same missions in the European theater. But, he says, they were segregated based on race, and never got to know each other until 50 years after the war.
“In 1997, Herb Heilbrun discovered that an event for the Tuskegee Airmen was going to be held in downtown Cincinnati,” Portman said. “He decided to stop by and thank the fighter pilots who protected him, and his bomber and his bomber squad in Europe.”
The men met at the event, according to Portman, where they quickly realized how much they had in common, including working at the same factory after the war, and even sharing the same third-grade class when they were children.
A class photo, which Heilbrun had saved, was displayed on the Senate floor during the speech. It showed Leahr and Heilbrun standing next to each other.
“Their friendship was obviously meant to be,” Portman said. “They shared their story with schoolchildren and adults, talking about how things were different in the past and promoting racial understanding and the rejection of bigotry today.”
Leahr died in 2015 at age 94. Heilbrun died in 2020 at age 100.
Portman is retiring at the end of his term, in January of 2023. His office did not immediately respond to a request seeking further comment.
Watch the full speech here.
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Pete D’Abrosca is a contributor at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Pete on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Rob Portman” by U.S. Senate Photography. Background Photo “Welcome to North Avondale” by North Avondale Neighborhood Association Cincinnati.