QUINCY -- Col. George J. Iles would have turned 100 on Tuesday, so students at his namesake school threw him a birthday party.
They sang happy birthday, enjoyed a cupcake and, most importantly, learned more about the Quincy native who was a Tuskegee Airman in World War II and also served in Korea and Vietnam.
"It's important to know about our school and our school name," fifth-grader Madison Kuhl said.
"One of the commitments we made once they decided what the name of our school would be was to make sure we kept that namesake alive in the school," Iles Principal Cindy Crow said. "His life and work were important enough to name a school after him. We didn't want it to become just the name of a school."
Jess Thorsen's fifth-grade class led the school's first combined Red Tail Rally, the morning meeting, sharing facts with a video they researched and produced about Iles, who was known as a Red Tail, a nickname for the Tuskegee Airmen because of their airplane's markings.
"We wanted to know why he was so important, what was important about him," fifth-grader Reed Mast said.
Most impressive, fifth-grader Isabella Brown said, was that he fought in three wars -- and that he was from Quincy. "I didn't know he lived in Quincy. I thought he lived somewhere else," she said.
Iles and the Tuskegee Airmen "all kept pushing so they could be in the war," Reed said. "They really wanted to show what they could do."
The fifth-graders led the rest of the students in the school's call-back goals, following principles of the Tuskegee Airmen to aim high, believe in yourself, expect to win, ready to go, use your brain and never quit.
Iles "never quit. He had a lot of obstacles in his way and kept going," Thorsen said. "A lot of students don't know his background or why our school was named after him. It's important for all the kids to know so his legacy can live on through the school."
The birthday celebration was part of a week of activities designed to help students learn more about Iles while having fun dress-up days.
Iles chose a career as a pilot, and on Monday, students dressed for their future career. On Wednesday, students learned Iles attended Quincy College, and they wore their favorite college colors/gear, "which is them thinking about their future stories," Crow said.
Entries in a poster contest illustrating the theme "Colonel Iles was a Red Tail! Respectful! Responsible! Safe!" will remain on display in the school hallways for next week's Veterans Day assemblies.
"Every K-5 building started a new community, and when you celebrate together, that causes feeling of community," Crow said. "We thought this was a way to do that. Dress up days, cupcakes, assemblies together. That makes us feel like we're a family."