Tuskegee Airmen to Be Honored in Washington

March 29, 2007 — -- In Washington today, 200 of the surviving Tuskegee airmen will receive America's highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.

The airmen, who made up America's first all-black combat flying unit, are recognized as some of the greatest heroes of World War II. Their skill and courage are the stuff of legend.

The airmen formed as a band of brothers who volunteered to fight for a segregated America that did not recognize them as equals at the time. Dr. Roscoe Brown, now in his 80s, remembers the struggle.

"There wasn't a question [of] could we succeed? It was the question, 'If and when will we be given the opportunity to succeed?' And once we got that opportunity, we seized it," he said.

The airmen flew more than 200 missions escorting bombers. Although just recently disputed, the airmen are widely credited with never losing a bomber they escorted to enemy fighters.

"They persevered and their love of country dominated," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. "They're great patriots."

Combating Enemies and Segregation

The airmen were also determined to change the face of the military. They became an integral part of its desegregation.

"We defeated segregation through excellence of performance," Brown said. "We were given the opportunity in the highest profile activity to fly military airplanes and we did it better than anybody else."

Col. Lawrence Roberts, father of ABC's Robin Roberts, was a member of the elite team of fighters. He served in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. Today, he will be honored in spirit along with his fellow airmen.

"I don't remember anything like this receiving unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate," Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said. "What heroes, what a country that you can go from being treated like you're not a human being, and you come back a patriot, that all America has to say thank you."

For Brown, the Congressional Gold Medal is a much appreciated reward for a lifetime of service.

"The Congressional Gold Medal is the epitome, like icing on the cake," he said. "It's just so wonderful to be recognized and for the country to understand what we went through. You can't be prouder than that."

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