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Commentary: Recognizing a heritage of perserverance

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Wes Carter
  • 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
"But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."

These famous words were spoken by President Abraham Lincoln on Nov. 19, 1863 on a battlefield near Gettysburg, Pa. Although they were meant to recognize the battlefield where brave men fought to end the stain of slavery in America, they provide equal significance to a field in southern Alabama that became the birthplace of African-American pilots in the Air Force.

As we celebrate Black History Month in February, it's only fitting to reflect upon the accomplishments of those aviation pioneers of whom we are direct descendents in unit lineage.

In January of 1941, the War Department announced plans to create a "Negro pursuit squadron" whose pilots would be trained at the Tuskegee Institute, Ala.

Three months later, a trustee to the Rosenwald Fund, a fund that helped secure financing for one of the Tuskegee airfields, visited the institute and flew with Chief C. Alfred Anderson, the Tuskegee Institute's chief pilot instructor. The trustee's name was Eleanor Roosevelt, wife to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Mrs. Roosevelt was so impressed with the ability of the African-American pilots she went back to her husband and insisted that African-Americans were just as capable to fly as anyone else in the sky.

In July of that same year, 13 cadets walked onto Tuskegee Army Air Field to become the first class of African-American combat pilots. Eight of the pilots didn't succeed in the rigorous training, but five did.

These men were not treated as equals, yet they fought for a chance to fight in a war that was based on equality for others. They knew they could contribute and set out to prove so. Legend has it that the first people to realize that African-Americans were just as competent as anyone flying in combat missions were the bomber planes that the Tuskegee's escorted through hostile enemy fire. The only color that a pilot was concerned with was red. The Tuskegee fighter pilots, marked by their aircraft's red tail, had a reputation of never leaving the side of an aircraft until it was safe.

Today their legend lives here -- in the roar of the afterburners of an F-16 barrelling down our runway; in the sweat of the maintainers, refuelers and crew chiefs prepping that fighter for its patrol; in the determination of the security patrols keeping the base safe to execute that flying mission. In me and in you.

After completing their training the original Tuskegee Airmen became part of the 332nd Bomber Group, which is now the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Joint Base Balad. I am not an African-American, but as part of the 332nd AEW, I take pride that I am part of a heritage that represents honor, sacrifice and perseverance.