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Historic homecoming for Tuskegee Airmen as site opens
As part of the opening ceremony of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site Oct. 10 at Moton Field, Ala., National Park Service officials unveil a sign that designates part of Interstate 85, which passes near the city of Tuskegee, as the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Highway. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama looks on from behind. (Air Force photo by Scott Knuteson)
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Historic homecoming for Tuskegee Airmen as site opens

Posted 10/16/2008   Updated 10/16/2008 Email story   Print story

    


by Christine Harrison
Air University Public Affairs


10/16/2008 - MOTON FIELD, Ala. -- Hundreds of aviators, mechanics and support personnel who once worked at the Tuskegee Army Air Field and Moton Field, Ala., during the 1930s and '40s gathered here once again Oct. 10 when the National Park Service memorialized the efforts of the first black pilots, the famed Tuskegee Airmen, in the Army Air Corps.

The National Tuskegee Historic Site is now officially open for old and young alike to learn about the achievements of the more than 10,000 men and women of the "Tuskegee Experience," a testing ground for African-Americans to prove themselves as not just aircraft pilots and maintainers, but as human beings equal to their white brothers-in-arms.

Moton Field was an "island of hope, an island of opportunity and a place of achievements," said Dr. Roscoe Brown, one of the Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen, or DOTAs, who participated in a panel discussion prior to the opening ceremony.

"We beat segregation, and now we have to take advantage of the opportunities," said retired Lt. Col. James Warren, a navigator who trained at Moton Field and authored "The Tuskegee Airmen Mutiny at Freeman Field," a book chronicling the arrests and subsequent punishments of 104 black Army Air Corps officers who attempted to enter a whites-only officers club in 1945. "It wasn't until 1995 that those courts-martial were removed from those officer's records. But they are gone now."

It was those actions, as well as the achievements of black pilots during World War II, that led President Harry Truman to desegregate the Armed Forces three years later, Mr. Warren said.

The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site museum is housed in the only remaining original hangar at Moton Field. Interpretive and static displays also record the stories of the Civilian Pilot Training program at Tuskegee Institute, a federally funded program that was the precursor to military pilot training at Moton Field.

Thousands attended the opening ceremony, and weekend-long celebration which included the unveiling of the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Highway, located off U.S. I-85, as well as a flyover of four F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 187th Fighter Group out of Dannelly Field, Ala.

"Your courage has brought us closer to the ideals of our founding fathers," said Lynn Scarlett, the deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior. "You fought two wars - one against military forces overseas, and one against racism at home."

"You set an example for the world," said retired Lt. Gen. Russell Davis, one of the first student pilots of the Moton Field. "You gave us all a little of that 'right stuff,' and you set a hallmark across the entire spectrum of society."

Alabama Governor Bob Riles said he was honored to be in the presence of American heroes.

"You are proof that no race has a monopoly on excellence, that no one group has a singular claim on heroism," he said.

Once overseas, the Tuskegee Airmen became part of the 332nd Fighter Group, composed of the 99th, 100th, 301st and 302nd African-American fighter squadrons. Known as the Red Tails because of the distinctive red paint on their plane, they earned 112 aerial victories in World War II, and the group received two Presidential Unit Citations. Members of the group were also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Purple Heart, and in 2006, they were collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of their service and sacrifice.

For more information on the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, visit www.nps.gov/tuin.



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