Aviation pioneers speak with military, Cheyenne community

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Brandon Valle
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
World War II led to a number of advancements in aviation that jump started the formation of the U.S. Air Force. Less than 40 years after the Wright brothers first achieved manned, powered, controlled flight, aviation was taken to a whole new level.

Innovations in tactics, production, technology and culture provided huge forward strides in aviation. Even though each aviation milestone was monumental, few are remembered or respected more than the formation of the program called the Tuskegee Experience.

Originally created by the Army Air Corps as a program to train African-Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft, the Tuskegee Experience included the training for pilots, navigators, instructors, maintainers and all support personnel who worked to keep planes in the air. Participants in the program became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Of the more than 350 Tuskegee pilots who served during World War II, only 21 remain today. Airmen from F.E. Warren Air Force Base, the Wyoming National Guard, and citizens from the local community had the opportunity to listen to four of the original Tuskegee Airmen during a presentation at the Cheyenne Civic Center Aug. 14, 2015.

Retired Col. Charles McGee and retired Lt. Cols. George Hardy, Harry Stewart and James Harvey III spoke with an assembled audience about their careers in the military and the racial barriers they faced during training and their military careers.

The Tuskegee Airmen, or Red Tails as they are known due to how they painted the tails of their planes, overcame racial segregation to become one of the most highly respected American fighter groups of World War II. The operational accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen marked a milestone in the path to the full integration of the U.S. military.

"Today when I look around, it makes me feel good to see so many black four-star generals and admirals who have been able to advance," Hardy said. "We've come a long way, and I'm just so proud to be part of that."

Each of the Tuskegee Airmen expressed their gratitude towards the people who had come out to hear them speak.

"It is a pleasure to be here and share with you and represent the many thousands we served," McGee said. "It's an honor to be treated with such respect. In our eyes, we were just Americans serving our country in the war efforts. We served for every American back home."

After listening to the stories, members of the audience were given the opportunity to ask them questions. However, most took the opportunity to express their admiration for the Airmen, from a simple thank you for your service to stories of family members flying missions being escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen.

At the end of the event, Army Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, The Adjutant General of Wyoming, presented the Tuskegee Airmen with tokens of appreciation from the Wyoming National Guard.

"I completely understand why these men are a part of the greatest generation," he said. "You are examples of the statement 'At 30,000 feet, It doesn't matter the color of your skin. What matters is the courage in your heart.' You were the few that served the many and it is your shoulders that we stand on today."