T Nation

Congressional Gold Medal

Tired of partisan politics? Here is one we can all get behind:

"400 to 0

That was the vote in the House of Representatives Tuesday night in favor of Rep. Charles Rangel’s bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Tuskegee Airmen. In a body known for its partisanship, it was a remarkable expression of national unity and consensus. As Mr. Rangel notes, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld - who Mr. Rangel has urged be impeached - released a letter urging members of Congress to support the initiative. “I don’t agree with Secretary Rumsfeld on too many things. But when it comes to the Tuskegee Airmen we stand shoulder to shoulder,” Mr. Rangel, a Democrat who represents Harlem, said in a press release.

The resolution itself tells a remarkable story: “The Congress finds the following: In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt overruled his top generals and ordered the creation of an all-Black flight training program. President Roosevelt took this action one day after the NAACP filed suit on behalf of Howard University student Yancy Williams and others in Federal court to force the Department of War to accept Black pilot trainees.”

It goes on, “Due to the rigid system of racial segregation that prevailed in the United States during World War II, Black military pilots were trained at a separate airfield built near Tuskegee, Alabama. They became known as the ‘Tuskegee Airmen’. The Tuskegee Airmen inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces, paving the way for full racial integration in the Armed Forces. They overcame the enormous challenges of prejudice and discrimination, succeeding, despite obstacles that threatened failure.”

A success it was. Of the pilots trained at Tuskegee, 450 served in combat during World War II, destroying many enemy targets in Europe and North Africa. Two of the pilots - Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., and Daniel ‘Chappie’ James - eventually became four-star generals in a military integrated by President Truman’s order.

The name Tuskegee has become notorious for the secret government syphilis experiment for which President Clinton apologized in 1997. But the Institute in Alabama founded by Booker T. Washington deserves to be known as a place where patriotic African-Americans trained to serve their country as airmen in a war against a racist enemy - and by their service helped conquer racism at home.

Today we are yet again at war against an evil enemy animated by anti-Semitism and seeking to impose its rigid way of life on the whole world. The Tuskegee Airmen rallied to America’s cause and to America despite all our country’s faults and divisions, and they fought bravely for freedom. Sixty six were killed in combat. Their sacrifice and service ennobles us, and remembering them, as Congress is doing, inspires us today."

Fantastic story. And one that, in my view, would be ripe for a great war movie nowadays. It is a story that needs to be told, and the pilots did more than shoot down bad guys - they showed us that in fighting a racist enemy, we needed to live up to our own ideals.

Congratulations to the Tuskegee Airmen. And thanks for your service.

War bonds poster.

Either HBO or TNT did a move about the Tuskegee Airmen. It was pretty well done.

It is a great story. Another fact. These guys never lost a bomber they escorted over Germany. That’s quite a combat record.

Bomber pilots who initially didn’t want to fly with these guys fought tooth and nail to get them as escorts as the war progressed and the skill of the pilots became known.

I’m glad they made this award.