Review: ‘Devotion’ stirringly tells the story of the Navy’s first Black aviator
“Devotion” is a stirringly told story of the first Black combat pilot in the U.S. Navy.
It is about a man who rises from poverty to become a Black aviator, but many young men still have not done this.
I got the chance to sit down with actor Robert McCall Jr., who portrays pilot Capt. Richard Byrd on “Devotion,” for a chat and to hear the heartening stories of the Black aviators of the past.
“When I first started at ‘Devotion,’ I was trying to see if anyone was willing to sit down and talk about the Black history of the Navy,” said Robert McCall Jr. “So, I made a list of people who had served in the early days of American aviation, and they were either too young, not yet at the Navy, or just weren’t available to be interviewed.”
“So, I just started at the very beginning, and worked my way through history. A lot of the information is out of print, and I’ve been trying to figure it all out, so I’m just happy there’s another generation coming along who are now able to share the story.”
The story of Richard Byrd (Robert McCall Jr.), one of the first Black aviators to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II, is filled with adventure and adversity.
Byrd enlisted as a radar operator in 1939 at age 18, but his first flight came during a flight test when he was 20. He was flying three-engine aircraft with no radio or radar guidance.
“Then I got a telegram in 1939 that said, ‘Welcome home,’ so I came back. And I had been working on the plane that was coming home. I was an 18-year-old kid in the Navy.
“The squadron that I was serving with had flown three to five missions in a day, and the mission was to take over a radar station and fly it from the ground. So, I did that as an 18-year-old.
“As we got farther along … we found that we could not find any of the radars that we were supposed to take over. I