What Others are Saying

April 03, 2007

There is no way this nation can properly atone for the shabby and disrespectful way that we treated those World War II heroes known as the Tuskegee Airmen, but at long last we have begun to try.

At a ceremony under the Capitol dome last Thursday, Congress took a first step toward righting a wrong by awarding surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen ... the Congressional Gold Medal. During the ceremony, President Bush added his personal sharp salute to the airmen.

He told them, "On behalf of the office I hold, and a country that honors you, I salute you for your service to the United States of America."

In stupendous understatement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the honor "long overdue."

Boy, was it ever.

The Tuskegee Airmen were nearly 1,000 black fighter and bomber pilots trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field between 1942 and 1946. About 450 of the pilots who trained there flew combat missions. The fighter pilots - who flew P-51 Mustangs - generally flew as escorts to bombers over Europe and North Africa.

Most of the airmen had volunteered for service during World War II, but many were told that blacks couldn't be fighter pilots because they didn't have the muscle coordination to fly airplanes.

Tuskegee pilots are credited with shooting down 111 German aircraft in more than 15,000 combat missions. ...

They became some of the most respected pilots in the U.S. military. Bomber groups often requested that their group be escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen.

But after the war, the pilots returned to America not to a heroes' welcome but to the brutal reality of racism. They often were treated with callousness and disdain.

Now, more than 60 years later, we are getting around to trying to right that wrong. To the airmen, we can only say that we are ashamed it has taken this long, but we join the chorus in saying thank you for your service.

- Contra Costa (Calif.) Times

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