A Chicago community is rallying to support a World War II veteran facing major health and financial issues.
As an original Tuskegee Airman, Virgil Poole's intelligence gathering helped pilots safely reach their targets during the war. Now, the Chicago-area is helping him.
The community has been raising money and awareness for the 97-year-old who has been battling dementia and is losing his home in Glenwood.
"They family thought that he was paying the bills like he did every month on time and unfortunately when they received the foreclosure notice it was a little bit beyond too late," said family friend Juquita Johnson.
Poole, 97, is an original member of the Tuskegee Airmen. The pioneer group of African-American pilots and service personnel broke color barriers and became one of the most highly-decorated units in US aviation history.
Nearly 75 years ago, Poole served in an intelligence capacity and held debriefings with airmen returning from combat missions over North Africa and Europe. According to the Chicago DODO Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Poole is one of eight original members still living in the Chicago area.
“To know someone who is so historical, someone who helped save our country, someone who led our country to victory and if it wasn’t for him, who knows where we would be right now?” said Johnson.
Virgil and his wife Haweda’s two car loans were eating up nearly half of the couple’s income, which made day-to-day living difficult.
“We had to cut back, you know, there’s nothing we can do about it because I didn’t want to have a repo on me and make my credit bad,” said Haweda Poole.
Johnson said she believes the Pooles were victims of financial exploitation as a result of Haweda signing a car loan with a 21.38 percent interest rate for a new Honda Accord in 2015.
“There is no way as a business person I would allow myself and allow a senior, a super senior, to sign a $600 to $700 car note payment on a car that’s definitely worth maybe half of that,” Johnson said.
Mario Aguirre, of United Credit Union, helped the Pooles refinance one of their auto loans.
“As an airman, as a police officer he provided great service to the United States and the city of Chicago,” Aguirre said.
Johnson is now helping the Pooles pay some of their smaller bills. The couple is also receiving food donations from United Methodist Church in Hazel Crest.
“They’ve been very helpful. They really have,” said Haweda Poole.
Johnson has set up a GoFundMe page to help the Pooles.
Chicago DODO Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen president Ken Rapier said the group has raised more than $1,200 for Virgil and his wife. The group is also planning to hold a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for the Pooles.
“When we find out about something like this, we go in to action as quick as we can,” Rapier said.
The local chapter raises awareness for the Tuskegee Airmen through speaking engagements. It also offers scholarships and sponsors youth aviation programs.
“He is our hero and we need to help our hero. We need to sustain our hero,” said Vallorie O’Neil of the Chicago DODO Chapter, Tuskegee Airmen Inc.
In addition, since the Pooles' story first made headlines, housing and credit professionals have reached out to NBC 5, offering their expertise to the couple.
The family is currently exploring several housing options but no decision has been made. Meantime, fundraisers say they’ll do everything they can to help the veteran and his wife.
A local American Legion chapter also said it is working on securing a home and a federal voucher that would pay the rent for the Pooles.