Tuskegee Airmen Remembered During Black History Month
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American Air Force pilots to serve in World War II, but it has taken more than six decades for them to be recognized for their service.
And as school children and communities across the country celebrate black history month they are remembering these black soldiers.
At 86, Sgt. Stephen Lawrence recalls with great clarity the role he and the 332nd air battalion played during World War II. "They swooped down on them," recalls Lawrence, "and this way they were able to save every bomber that they escorted. they didn't lose one."
A member of the now-famed Tuskegee Airmen, Lawrence was among this group of African-Americans --the first blacks-- admitted into the Airforce. The pain of war was made more severe by prejudice.
"What hurt me was the white folks said that the black folk were too stupid to learn how to fly," says Lawrence.
But the determined young men were college-educated and highly trained. "But we proved them wrong," adds Lawrence.
In 1943, Lawrence a Philadelphia native was stationed at the tuskegee base in Alabama, he learned the culture of war, while experiencing the racism that pervaded the South. "We had to sit in the back of the bus and all this stuff it was bad for us."
Lawrence was not a pilot, but as an experienced welder he was trained in aerodynamics and rose through the ranks to manage the crews. "When a cadet came to fly my plane I had to make sure it could take off because that was my responsibility in the first place."
When the war ended the return to civilian life was again a reality check. "It was over, period. I couldn't find a job. It's like the light at the end of the tunnel had gone out."
But the long-awaited call for recognition came last year when president george bush issued every Tuskegeee Airman a gold medal. Now this group from the greatest generation have been given the final salute they long deserved. And today lawrence spends his time giving to generations of the future.
"Our purpose is to share our legacy with them," says Lawrence.
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