He had hoped to become a doctor but enlisted instead at the end of 1941. He never trained as a pilot; like the majority of the 16,000 African American airmen, he was support staff, a clerk in military intelligence.
After the war, Searcy dropped out of college. He moved from job to job, cleaning planes for United Airlines, working at a downtown Los Angeles post office and selling women's clothing.
He and his wife never had children, and she died in a car crash in 1990.
He never bothered to join national airmen's groups, skipped their award ceremonies and movie premieres and stuffed his military honors away in a dog-eared envelope.
Then last month, President-elect Barack Obama invited the more than 300 surviving airmen to his inauguration.
About 16 airmen from Los Angeles claimed tickets, including Theodore "Ted" Lumpkin, 90, president of the Los Angeles chapter of , Tuskegee Airmen Inc., a national airmen's group.
Searcy, 87, searched his Van Nuys apartment, fished out his discharge paperwork and gave it to the airmen's group, which confirmed he is a "DOTA" -- Documented Original Tuskegee Airman.
Now Searcy is preparing to join the other airmen traveling to the inauguration, where they will sit up front, near former presidents and members of Congress, and share memories, good and bad.
"It's too good to give up," Searcy said. "It's just like why I volunteered for the military. In your life, you do things you feel are meaningful to everyone."
Before he enlisted, Searcy had been unaccustomed to segregation, having grown up the grandson of a prosperous landowner in East Texas. He got his first taste after basic training at Ft. Hood, Texas, when he was selected to lead a group of airmen to Tuskegee, Ala.
As he stood in uniform on the dusty, wind-swept platform, porters told him that his men would be confined in their train car for days, barred from the Pullman car's dining and sleeping quarters.
"I demanded that they give us equal passage to get there, off and on, to eat and sleep with the rest of them," he said. "They was shocked and surprised."
The porters, who were mostly black, eventually relented.
Looking back, Searcy says he had to speak up.
"I was put in charge of those men," he said. "I felt I had to represent what the Constitution was for those men. That's what leadership is."
He went on to serve in Italy and was honorably discharged Oct. 27, 1945, with commendations for supporting combat missions over Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Now Searcy no longer wants to forget the past. He said he owes it to comrades who have died -- "Lonely Eagles," the airmen call them -- to stand beside the nation's first black president, to embrace his past and claim his place in history.
"The next generation need to see something different, a change from what it was, what it used to be," Searcy said. "And he represents that change."