Three Tuskegee Airmen were honored in a ceremony Wednesday recognizing the official induction of a PT-17 Stearman aircraft into the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
Many of the Tuskegee Airmen trained using the model, which was given to the Air Force by the American Heritage Museum in Massachusetts. The historic plane was on display during the event at Joint Base Andrews.
“As I progressed throughout my career, I've learned more and more about the Tuskegee Airmen and grown to appreciate their profound accomplishments,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the nation’s first African American military service chief.
“When thinking about the opportunities and the many memories I've had while serving, I'm thankful for what those who came before me sacrificed and accomplished,” he continued. “Without their courage, without their determination, without their hard work, these opportunities might never have existed for me and for so many others.”
The Tuskegee Airmen were the country’s first African American military pilots and flew combat missions during World War II. The legendary airmen, which included support staff, are widely regarded as one of the Air Force’s finest.
Tuskegee Airmen Lt. Col. Shelton Ivan Ware, Col. Carl C. Johnson and William T. Fauntroy Jr. were the ceremony’s celebrated guests.
Ware, who said he repaired vehicles and weapons during the war, told ABC News "at 99 as I approach the end of it all, it’s good to be able to see what all this was about."
"We didn’t do anything special. It was a thousand other people doing the same thing -- not because we thought it was important, but because our country asked us to do it," he said. "And we were glad to be a part of the service that went forth and represent the United States of America.”
The event also recognized the 75th anniversary of executive orders 9980 and 9981, which desegregated the federal government and military.
In an interview, Johnson noted the country’s progress and inclusion, saying he would “like to see it continue.”
“[We’ve] made so much progress and it's good for me to be able to observe people of color participating in so many other things” besides certain careers, he said. “I’d really like to see people in all the sciences, and that’s what’s happening.”
Heather Penney, a pilot for the American Heritage Museum, said she flew the PT-17 during part of its journey to DC.
She described the experience as “incredibly meaningful” as it allowed her to deeply connect to the airmen.
“What's spectacular about this aircraft is that all of their memories, all of their experiences -- this is the touchstone,” she said. "This aircraft not only represents it, but you can really feel it when you fly it.”
Brown said “As the number of Tuskegee Airmen dwindles, their courage, their story and their legacy will be showcased for many years to come and what remains. All of us here today are part of that legacy and this Stearman represents the Tuskegee Airmen as a lasting monument to these great Americans.”