Hartford Architect, Tuskegee Airman, Remembered For Ability To 'Clear Hurdles In Life'

In February 2005, Connie Nappier Jr. offered advice to a crowd of students at Fox Middle School.

"There is no limit to your possibilities," Nappier, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, told the group. "The good Lord gave us all a gold mine – a brain – so all you have to do is use it."

It could've served as the mission statement for Nappier's life, one filled with success and passion. And when that life ended Sept. 27 after 93 years, it left behind a legacy that those closest to him won't soon forget.

"He was a very proud man, and he had every right to be," Denise L. Nappier, the state treasurer, said Tuesday on the eve of her father's funeral at Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church. "I am who I am today, in part, because of my dad."

Connie Nappier was an prominent figure throughout Connecticut, one of a few members of the historic African-American World War II fighter pilots to live in the state.

"Nobody told them they were a credit to their race," President George W. Bush told Nappier and his peers during a ceremony at the White House in 2007. "Nobody expected them to bear the daily humiliations while wearing the uniform of their country."

Nappier was one of 300 Tuskegee Airmen given the Congressional Gold Medal that day for their service.

"I would like to offer a gesture to help atone for all the unreturned salutes and unforgivable indignities," Bush said at the event, as reported by a Courant reporter in attendance. "And so, on behalf of the office I hold and a country that honors you, I salute you for the service to the United States of America."

During his time with the airmen, named after the Alabama base where African-American recruits were sent to flight school, Nappier participated in a protest at Freeman Field in 1945 that effectively ended segregation in the military.

He and his colleagues refused to sign an agreement to be segregated from white soldiers, despite being taken into custody and threatened with a court martial.

President Harry S. Truman, who took office while the men were being held, supported desegregating the armed forces and ordered their release.

That steeled resolve, especially in the face of adversity, was a hallmark of Nappier's personality, to hear his daughter tell it.

"It's not often in my life that I find someone with such a grandiose dream to fly," she said. "Yet, at that moment – standing up for what he thought was right, and not signing the papers – his actions there were more important than his dream."

After the war, Nappier returned to Hartford and became an architect, eventually opening up his own firm, Connie Nappier Jr. Associates.

It's that image of Nappier, wearing the uniform of a business suit, that his daughter will always remember. In fact, she said, she didn't learn the full scope of her father's wartime accolades until she was well into her adult years.

She was impressed, floored by the role her father played in history. But, ultimately, it made sense, fitting into her understanding of the man she'd known her whole life.

"What became clear to me was that his accomplishments during the wartime and his accomplishments as an architect, let alone a black architect, all were examples of how he was able to clear the hurdles in his life," she said.

Funeral services for Nappier will be held Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church, 2051 Main St.

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