U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Every year, the U.S. Air Force Academy celebrates the Tuskegee Airmen.
Monday’s celebration included a wreath laying ceremony at the academy’s Tuskegee statue, built by Clarence Shiver, an original Tuskegee Airman.
“First of all, he wanted it to be sure that when you looked at it, you knew it was a black man. And then secondly, he wanted you to know that, that black man was a very proud black man,” said Peggy Shivers, widow of Clarence Shivers.
It’s recognition they never saw while serving their country.
“When we came back from overseas, they put a classification of top secret on the Tuskegee Airmen. It was on for 50 years, they didn’t want people to know about the Tuskegee Airmen because the program was too successful. It wasn’t supposed to happen,” said James H. Arvey III, one of the original Tuskegee Airman.
That’s because it happened in a time of racial segregation.
“And in Washington on the train, I suddenly had to switch to the Jim Crow car. ‘Jim Crow car? What’s this?'” said Randolph Edwards, another original Tuskegee Airman.
And it didn’t end on military bases.
“More segregation appeared through base movie, and then we had to sit in a special section for blacks,” Edwards said.
But even after all of that, the 99th Fighter Squadron kept going.
“He said all of them were just so proud and just so happy that none of them were complaining at all ’cause they loved being where they were,” Shivers said.
The group was created back in March of 1941 and trained in Tuskegee, Alabama.
By the end of the war, just under a thousand men had graduated from pilot training.
450 of those men were sent overseas for combat assignments.
Back in 2007, the Tuskegee Airmen received the Congressional Gold medal in the rotunda of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
It’s the highest civilian honor that can be awarded by the United States Congress.