WWII Heroes Deserving Of Symbolic Gesture
The pilots and ground crew of the
Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black force that served with distinction in
World War II, have been invited to attend the inaugural speech of
President-elect Barack Obama on January 20 in Washington, DC.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chairwoman of
the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies extended
the invitation last Tuesday to the swearing-in ceremonies.
Committee staff director Howard Gantman said, "They served
honorably on behalf of our country, helped fight the battle to
overcome racial barriers and because of the historic nature of this
election, we thought they deserved to be there."
When the Airmen received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 in
appreciation of their valor, Obama acknowledged his debt to them,
saying, "My career in public service was made possible by the path
heroes like the Tuskegee Airmen trail-blazed."
"I didn't believe I'd live long enough to see something like
this," said retired Tuskegee fighter pilot Lt. Col. Charles A. Lane
Jr., 83, of Omaha. "I would love to be there, I would love to be
able to see it with my own eyes," he said.
Retired Tuskegee combat fighter pilot William M. Wheeler, 85, of
Hempstead, NY said, "The election of Barack Obama was like a
culmination of a struggle that we were going through, wanting to be
pilots." Wheeler wanted to become a commercial pilot after the war,
but was offered a job cleaning planes instead, the New York Times
According to Tuskegee Airmen Inc., about 119 pilots and 211
ground crew are still alive. Because the men are in their 80s and
90s, it is uncertain how many will make the trip to Washington.
Robert D. Rose, first vice president of the Tuskegee Airmen
Inc., said he saw a direct connection between the Tuskegee
experience and Mr. Obama's election.
"The Tuskegee Airmen preceded Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks,
and if they hadn't helped generate a climate of tolerance by
integration of the military, we might not have progressed through
the civil rights era," Rose said. "We would have seen a different
civil rights movement, if we would have seen one at all."