October 29, 2005
More than 60 years after the formation of a pioneering group of black pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen, three of its aging members visited their former unit in Balad, a city just north of Baghdad.
"This is the new Air Force, this is the Air Force that represents America, all of it. It is not an organization of African American pilots trying to break the segregation system - they have done it," Lt. Col. Lee Archer, 85, said Friday in a telephone interview from Balad, where the 332 Expeditionary Air Wing is based.
Col. Archer is America's first black Ace from World War II.
Archer, of New York City, said the new unit "reflects the entire image of America. In that dining room was everything that makes America what it is: black, white, Asian, Pacific islanders, people from different parts of Europe. This is what America is."
He was one of three original Tuskegee Airmen in Balad. Archer was accompanied by retired Tech. Sgt. George Watson Sr., 85, from New Jersey and Master Sgt. James A. Shepherd, 81, from Maine. The visit was arranged by Air Force officials to link the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen with a new generation.
Of the many things that the United States military does well, possibly the most underappreciated by the civilian world is how it quietly emphasizes the historical significance of the various units to it's warriors. You can bet that this reminder of the 332nd's beginnings has boosted morale even higher and subtly pointed out that the men and women in that unit have a mighty big legacy to live up to. By all accounts, they are.
Read more about the Tuskegee Airmen here.
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