What Others Are Saying

June 01, 2007

As Memorial Day month comes to a close, we join the nation in offering a very belated salute to William H. Cornish.

Mr. Cornish, 87, served in World War II with the 332nd Fighter Group of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first all-black bomber unit.

After the war, the Tuskegee Airmen slipped too quietly back into a segregated society. The unit's extraordinary and valiant record put the lie to deeply ingrained racial segregation, so it had to be forgotten.

For decades, the Tuskegee Airmen were at most a footnote in the story of World War II for most Americans. That began to change in the last few years through the efforts of a few dedicated people.

In March, 300 surviving Tuskegee Airmen were honored in Washington, D.C., with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor awarded by lawmakers. Mr. Cornish was not in that group.

He had been overlooked, again.

Bill McAtee changed that. Mr. McAtee got to know Mr. Cornish while delivering food to his home through the Meals on Wheels program and had heard the veteran tell stories about his time in Europe with the Tuskegee Airmen. When Mr. McAtee saw a news story about the ceremony in Washington, he thought it was "an injustice" that Mr. Cornish wasn't included. He contacted U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Ron Spriggs, who has researched the airmen and created exhibits about them.

Finally, on Memorial Day, Mr. Cornish was awarded the gold medal in his Lexington home. "It's a great feeling to be able to live long enough to get this medal," he said.

We're grateful for the long life that allowed Mr. Cornish and the other airmen to receive their belated recognition.

Let this story of neglect make us vigilant against choosing to forget what we find difficult to see.

- Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader

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