News>Tuskegee Airmen receive high honors at Andrews
Story at a Glance
Only black Tuskegee Airman ace honored at Andrews luncheon. More than 130 Airmen were in attendance from units across the Air Force District of Washington. Retired Lt. Col. (Dr.) Ivan Ware, an original Tuskegee Airman, delivered the keynote address. The Tuskegee Airmen ferociously guarded Allied bombers over Europe during World War II.
The last surviving original Tuskegee Pilot, retired Lt. Col. Charles Mcgee, left of center in red, looks on as honor guardsman Airman 1st Class Travis Kidd, center and 316th Wing Commander Col. Steven Shepro, right, salute the shadow box and wreath assembled in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen’s recently deceased ace pilot, Lt. Col. Lee Archer. Colonel Shepro hosted the Feb. 16, luncheon honoring Lieutenant Colonel Archer and the accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Corenthia Fennell)
2/18/2010 - Air Force District of Washington -- Airman Travis Kidd, 316th Wing honor guardsman, marched rigidly into a hall at The Club on Andrews , exhaled suddenly and unclasped the chin strap of his uniform in one swift motion. The Thomasville, Ala., native built up a lot of tension while laying a wreath in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen's only certified "ace."
Airman Kidd felt a special connection to this assignment. He grew up less than two hours from the Tuskegee Airmen's training ground, a segregated air field in Tuskegee, Ala.
He was also part of the Honor Guard element assigned to the event held to honor Lt. Col. Lee Archer, considered the only black ace in American history, who passed away at the age of 90 on Jan. 27.
The luncheon, held on Feb. 16, also honored contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen, who ferociously guarded Allied bombers over Europe during World War II in trademark red-tailed P-51 Mustangs. Their heroism helped win the war with Germany while directly contributing to racial integration for the armed forces.
Knowing this history, Airman Kidd felt more than his share of responsibility toward ensuring the brief ceremony was executed perfectly. "To me, being part of an event involving the Tuskegee Airmen carries extra importance," said the honor guardsman after the event. "These men led the way. Just look, it's really history right here, and it's important to honor them for it."
More than 130 Airmen were in attendance from units across the Air Force District of Washington. Event organizers scrambled at the last minute to accommodate the overwhelming turnout, rolling out extra tables and chairs.
"The 'Redtails' courage and dedication to their country garners this kind of turnout on a regular basis," said Tech. Sgt. Nefertiti Haywood of the 79th Medical Wing. She is a member of the Tuskegee Airmen's East Coast Chapter and helped organize the event. "Everybody wants to see them and hear their stories first hand."
Many Redtails speak of being required to pass tests throughout their life. They had to prove they were capable of flying advanced fighter aircraft. They had to prove their mettle in battles matched the best pilots on both sides of the conflict. They had to prove they deserved all the resources and support offered to white Airmen. Most recently, they have had to prove their lesson will not fade with time, even as the group of original pilots thins down to one -- retired Col. Charles McGee.
Colonel McGee is a legend in the Air Force. He has more combat missions than any American pilot, and has flown more than 6,000 flight hours.
"We have a responsibility to these kids serving today," said Colonel McGee, who signed copies of his biography after the luncheon. "Helping them understand the history of the military and the work of the men I flew with can help them execute their mission with pride and continue our work."
The "we" that Colonel McGee refers to is the Tuskegee Airmen's Association, formed in the 1970's and dedicated to educating the public about the Redtails' two-front war against prejudice and fascism.
Tuskegee Airmen's Association members can be spotted in a room as easily as their P-51's were in battle. All members sport bright red coats encrusted with the seal of the association. Original members like Colonel McGee also bear the Congressional Gold Medal, awarded to the first Tuskegee Airmen.
The keynote speaker at the event, retired Lt. Col. (Dr.) Ivan Ware, was an original Tuskegee Airman who served as part of the unit's ground support. Despite undergoing hip replacement surgery in December, Colonel Ware delivered a rousing speech, paying homage to the sacrifices of blacks in every war fought on American soil and abroad.
"The victory in World War II could only be considered the start of the changes that had to be made in order to make this Union more perfect," said Doctor Ware. "America is a privilege earned by parental sacrifice. We are here today to recognize the sacrifices made by our parents and ancestors to forge equality out of injustice and move us down the path of integration."
Col. Steven Shepro, 316th Wing/Joint Base Andrews commander, hosted the event and took the opportunity to share his thoughts on the Tuskegee Airmen's sacrifice. "You treated your country better than your country treated you," said Colonel Shepro. "Bombers asked for the "Redtails" by name, not caring what race was in the cockpit, but knowing that they would get the best coverage in the air. That is a remarkable legacy." Colonel Shepro also presented a $500 check to the Tuskegee Airmen's Association's "Youth in Aviation" program.
Commanders from across the National Capital Region were in attendance, including AFDW Commander Maj. Gen. Darrell Jones; 79th Medical Wing Commander Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Gar S. Graham; Naval Air Facility Washington Commander Capt. Timothy Fox; and, 113th Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Jeffrey R. Johnson.