The Honor They Deserve…
March 30, 2007
More than 60 years after the 332nd Fighter Group’s World War II achievements, Preisdent George W. Bush presented the Tuskegee Airmen with the Congressional Gold Medal. Before any US aircraft ever broke the sound barrier, the Tuskegee Airmen had to overcome a daunting hurdle, one of racial barriers. The members of this elite group of men, returned home after World War II and suffered racial discrimination, despite their achievements as World War II pilots.
“I thank you for the honor you have brought to our country, and the medal you are about to receive means that our country honors you,” Bush said to the roughly 300-member audience of surviving airmen, Tuskegee Airmen widows and other relatives, before presenting the congressional award.”
President Bush has a strong interest in the pilots of World War II, because his father, former President George Bush Sr. was an airman himself.
“(My father) flew with a group of brave young men who endured difficult times in the defense of our country. Yet for all they have sacrificed and all they lost, in a way they were very fortunate,” he said. “They never had the burden of having their every mission, their every success, their every failure viewed through the color of their skin; … nobody refused their salutes.”
Bush shared that he felt the Tuskegee Airmen fought 2 wars — one in European theater during World War II and the other at home, in the hearts and minds of the US Citizens. Bush said that he wanted to offer the Tuskegee Airmen a small gesture to help atone for all of the unreturned salutes and the unforgivable racial indignities these brave men suffered and endured. Bush then saluted the airmen. The surviving airmen returned his salute and remained standing, applauding the President.
Dr. Roscoe Brown, a former commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group, speaking on behalf of his fellow Tuskegee Airmen, thanked the President, as well as the House and Senate for the unanimous vote to award the medal to the pilots, bombardiers, navigators, mechanics, ground officers; enlisted men and women who served with Tuskegee airmen.
“Over 60 years ago we were flying in the skies over Europe defending our Country, and at the same time fighting the battle against racial segregation,” he said. “Because of our great record and our persistence, we inspired revolutionary reform which led to integration in the armed forces in 1948. As the president said, (this) provided a symbol for America that all people can contribute to this country and be treated fairly.”
Brown was a recipient of a Distinguished Flying Cross and he was the first US pilot to down a German Messerschmitt jet. He shared that the Tuskegee Airmen were very pleased to be in the forefront of the struggle for freedom and justice in the United States.
Senator Carl Levin and Representative Charles Rangel were the chief champions in Congress to ensure the medal was awarded to the airmen.
“Nobody white or black in this country can understand how God has given you so much courage,” Rangel said, addressing the airmen. “From a nation that had rejected you because of your color, said you couldn’t fly, said you just weren’t worthy, you had to go out there and prove to them just how wrong they were. And how tragic was it to see, … after you came back to this great Country, how German prisoners of war were treated better than you were on your return?” he said. “But somehow, whatever God had given you, it didn’t cause you to stop. Every one of you in the different towns that I’ve been to are still continuing to protect this great Country, though perhaps not in the skies, but in the battles on the streets, talking to the kids, giving them self-esteem.”
Levin shared some of the feats of the airmen; 15,000 combat sorties flown, 260 enemy aircraft destroyed, 1,000 black pilots flying missions, 150 Flying Crosses and Legions of Merit earned and more than 700 Air Medals and Clusters earned.
The entire Congressional resolution can be read here