Local News

U.S. Honors Tuskegee Airmen

Posted March 29, 2007
Updated March 30, 2007

Map Marker  Find News Near Me

— The Tuskegee Airmen, America’s black fighter-pilot unit in WW II, was honored at the White House on Thursday for their service. President George Bush awarded a Congressional Gold Medal—the highest and most distinguished award the Congress has for civilians.

Over the course of the war, there were 994 pilots trained at the army air field in Tuskegee, Ala., Today, there are only a few hundred of the airmen left, and several of them live in the Triangle.

“They are the greatest fliers this nation has ever seen,” said Leonard "Hawk" Hunter, a historian from Raleigh who has followed the airmen.

“I was trained as a twin-engine pilot,” recalled Harold Webb of Raleigh, a Wake County commissioner.

“We went through one training program after another,” remembered Stewart Fulbright, who lives in Durham.

“I was just a kid when I went in,” said William McDonald, also a Durham resident.

Vash Eagleson, an airman's son who was born while his father was in training at Tuskegee, says the project was not designed for the glory its members achieved.

“The Tuskegee Airmen experiment was actually intended to fail,” said Eagleson, who lives in Raleigh.

Hunter agrees.

“They were men who this country decided that could not fly because of the color of their skin,” Hunter said. But the men could fly, and they did it with distinction.

The squad known as the “Red-Tail Angels” was trained to escort bombers on their missions and protect them from enemy fighters.

“The Red-Tail Angels never lost an escorted bomber to the German air force,” Hunter said. Webb said they had to do it while fighting a second war—for their own rights.

“The other war we were fighting was Jim Crowism and segregation right here in America,” Webb said.

“There was a lot of discrimination going on. There was a lot of racial tension” said Eagleson, the airman’s son.

The surviving Tuskegee Airmen were invited to pay $38.50 each for a replica of the one Congressional Gold Medal Bush presented to the group.

Several Tuskegee Airmen who live in the Triangle on Thursday questioned why the government would refuse to spend a few thousand dollars on medals for the airmen who gave so much to their country.

“How can we be spending billions of dollars in Iraq, but we can't spend $30,000 on these guys 60 years after their accomplishment?” Eagleson asked.

“Why? Why, America? Why? That's my question,” said Hunter.

WRAL called the the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and a spokesperson said the U.S. Mint routinely charges for replicas of the award. But a private investor came forward at the last minute with a donation that allows each airman to receive his own medal free of charge.

62 Comments

Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • TC Mar 31, 2007

    Excellent write-up on such wonderful, long unsung, American Heroes! God bless the Tuskegee Airmen, your recognition is long overdue! God bless America for when she finally gets it right! Tracy Castle

  • WifeMomNurse Mar 30, 2007

    I checked these facts & they are true. Thank you "Informer" for sharing the following for everyone to read:
    "Only 300 people have received the Congressional Gold Medal since George Washington first got it in 1776....In 2005 Congress passed a bill that would limit the number of Congressional Gold Medals that would be given out to two a year.
    Since Martin Luther King Jr and Coretta Scott King received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004, only three people have recieved it since and the Tuskegee Airmen are one of them."

    Maybe the indignant & outraged posting here can start working to pass a new congressional bill that will lift the 2CMO/yr rule?

    At least it will keep you busy.

  • GIGATT Mar 30, 2007

    The Historian...I agree with you...if they are being honored, I as a tax payer, have no problem paying for them to have their own medal. That seems to be the very least we can do for our soldiers. The article makes it sound like they are still being treated unfairly because of this and I was just making the point that they aren't. I wish the media wouldn't make mountains out of mole hills and I wish people would wise up and stop climbing those mountains! Friend, I'm not implying that you are doing so. I'm on the same page as you here:-)

  • Friend Mar 30, 2007

    dfijan - Friend your entitled to your opinion but I think they should not have to spend a dime on a medal they earned. Just like you stated in your post, each person gets one at no charge and each additional one they purchase, now that would be fair but Congress did not do that.

  • GIGATT Mar 30, 2007

    The Historian: "They only presented one medal for all of the Tuskegee Airmen. They are not buying a additional medal they are required to pay for the first one. That is not right."

    From the article: "The airmen together will receive one medal. Each must pay $38.50 for his own replica if he wants a medal to have."

    Sounds like the original metal is presented to the group and they pay for any replica if they want one for themselves or family members. According to the military personnel posting here, this is standard. I don't understand what the big fuss is about. Why can't they just be happy with the recognition? It's a great honor that they deserve. They aren't being treated any different than any other soldier that receives a medal of honor.

  • Friend Mar 30, 2007

    YOU KNOW, THEY HAD A FORUM THE OTHER DAY ABOUT RIVAL GANGS IN OUR SCHOOLS AND THAT WE SHOULD TRY TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. WHAT DO SAY WE SET AN EXAMPLE BY NOT MAKING EVERY ISSUE THAT COMES ALONG REPUBLICANS VERSUS DEMOCRATS. FOR THE RECORD I AM A DEMOCRAT,BUT 1gzsfrk WAS RIGHT ON TARGET WITH THEIR POST. WE ALL HAVE THE RIGHT TO OUR OPINIONS, BUT WE SHOULD MAKE THEM INTELLIGENTLY. SO SHOULD WE CONTINUE TO ACT AS RIVAL GANGS, OR INTELLIGENT ADULTS WITH A OPINION, YOU DECIDE. AND THE EVIDENCE WILL BE IN YOUR FUTURE POST.

  • romeopm Mar 30, 2007

    the airmen just wanted to be reconized. i dont think they are complaining.

  • Amusedone Mar 30, 2007

    Not sure what happened to my last post. Anyway, it is standard practice to give one medal whether it be to an individual or group. There are at least 15 instances where one medal has been awarded to a group of two or more people, including the Navaho Codetalkers in 2001 (which is also well after their WW2 efforts). And lest you think it is a racial thing, one medal was awarded to all of the "Surviving Veterans of the War Between the States" on July 18, 1956. BTW, to avoid confusion, this is the official name of the U.S. Civil War according to Congress.

  • Friend Mar 30, 2007

    nccaseyj, They only presented one medal for all of the Tuskegee Airmen. They are not buying a additional medal they are required to pay for the first one. That is not right.

  • nccaseyj Mar 30, 2007

    As a retired military individual, there's nothing wrong with having to purchase an additional medal. Whenever a military medal is awarded, each person gets ONE at no charge to them. If they want any additional medals to give away to friends or display, then they are free to purchase an extra one. I, for one, would gladly pay for an extra one and let the government use money for vets and operational troops. Why so much whining and "give me, give me"?

More...