Thursday, March 29, 2007

Beyond FINESSE: The Tuskegee Airmen

My husband’s parents married in 1964, when interracial marriages were still illegal in some states. For this reason, I rate pioneers in racial integration high on my list of heroes. Since my husband’s parents also lived for many years on Air Force bases in the U.S. and abroad, I also appreciate those who contributed to the early integration of the military. By the 1960s, it was fairly common to see mixed-race families in the military and from what I’ve heard, my in-laws experienced very little prejudice during their years on American bases.

The Tuskegee Airmen were among the first pioneers of racial integration in the U.S. military. Since they happened to be pilots like my dad, they rank way up there among my personal favorite figures in American history. I guess that’s why I’d have loved to have been at today’s ceremony in which more than 300 Tuskegee Airmen and widows of deceased Airmen were presented with the Congressional Gold Medal. A New York Sun editorial points out that President Bush and some of his harshest critics were scheduled to preside at the ceremony at the Capitol, “for a cause so just that it bridges partisan divides.”

The resolution to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Tuskegee Airmen is quoted in the Sun editorial as stating, in part:

“In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt overruled his top generals and ordered the creation of an all-Black flight training program. Due to the rigid system of racial segregation that prevailed in the United States during World War II, Black military pilots were trained at a separate airfield built near Tuskegee, Alabama. They became known as the ‘Tuskegee Airmen.’ The Tuskegee Airmen inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces, paving the way for full racial integration in the Armed Forces. They overcame the enormous challenges of prejudice and discrimination, succeeding despite obstacles that threatened failure.”

Every description I’ve read about the Airmen states that they “flew with distinction” during World War II. The Tuskegee Airmen boasted more than 400 pilots who were deployed overseas, with 150 who lost their lives in training or combat. Despite an established reputation bolstered by the award of multiple Presidential Unit Citations, numerous Silver Stars, 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars, and more than 700 Air Medals, the Tuskegee Airmen continued to battle racism when they returned home after the war.

But that only made them more determined to succeed. Two Tuskegee Airmen—Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., and Daniel “Chappie” James—eventually became the first African-American four-star generals.


Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

Also of interest is this comment that follows the Sun editorial from Shawn M. Dillon:

When I read that the Tuskegee Airmen were going to be awarded The Congressional Gold Medal,there was a sense of pride that I have never felt before.

Pride in knowing that my service in the Military was somewhat smoother, knowing that these Men made the road a bit easier to navigate.

Pride in knowing that in my travels on this world, people always made a positive comment or reaction when their names come up in a conversation.

And pride,in knowing, that after all these years of being shorted on the awards/medals that were rightful due to them, The Tuskegee Airmen were always a class act by letting their amazing track record do all the talking for them.

It's ironic that the job I perform daily (profession trucker) allows me to pass by the large signs to let drivers know that the exit to The Tuskegee Airmen National Site is a mile away. I always give a heart felt salute to those signs from my cab, as my way to say, "thank you" to what they stood for: "A group of men, who happened to be Afro-American, through their quiet actions, contribute greatly to The Greatest Generation In America."

6:21 PM  

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