Ninety-two-year-old “Tuskegee Airman” salutes racial progress, Obama
WASHINGTON – They were treated like second-class citizens in World War Two – but overcame racial prejudice to emerge as bona fide heroes.
And on Monday, these black former “Tuskegee Airmen” were back in the front row for the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.
“I never thought I’d see the inauguration of a black president, and today I’m seeing one inaugurated for a second time,” said Cyril Byron, 92, of Baltimore.
“This is something you dream about, something you hope about, pray about,” said Byron, who was seated with old buddies and wearing a black-and-red baseball cap reading, “Tuskegee Airmen.”
Until World War Two, African-Americans were barred from flying for the U.S. military. They were seen as not up to the task.
But under pressure from civil rights groups and others, the armed forces created an all-black squadron based in Tuskegee, Alabama, known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
Despite being given inferior equipment and regularly segregated from others, they stepped up and delivered and became a feared and respected fighting force.
“We used to say we fought two wars – against the enemy in the air and against discrimination back home,” Byron said. “We did OK.”
Obama invited veterans of the Tuskegee Airmen to his first inauguration in 2009 and invited them again to his second. Invitations went out to more than 50 of the old soldiers: pilots, navigators, bombardiers and members of the ground crew, like Byron.
“Our motto was ‘We keep ‘em flying,” Byron said.
As for Obama and his second term, Byron said: “He’s proven he’s a fighter. He is not going to get everything he wants. But he is going to keep making progress.”