WASHINGTON, D.C. (AFNS - 8/4/2011) -- "I have a dream," said Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr., "that my four little children will one day
live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their
skin but by the content of their character."
Maj. Gen. Darren W. McDew, the Air Force District of Washington commander, and Jim Pryde, a Tuskegee Airman, lay a wreath at the U.S. Air Force Memorial on July 31, 2011, in Washington, D.C. Pryde served with the Army Air Corps' 477th Medium Bombardment Group as a combat crewman. During his tenure, he accrued 1,600 flight hours before continuing his civil service career as an intelligence analyst with the Armed Forces Security Agency. (U.S. Air Force photo
by Staff Sgt. Raymond Mills)
Before King famously spoke those words from the steps of the Lincoln
Memorial in 1963, more than 900 African American men had undertaken
a mission to serve and defend their country during World War II,
when they were not openly permitted to do so. Those men were
recently celebrated during a special ceremony.
Darren McDew, the Air Force District of Washington commander, along
with Jim Pryde, an original Tuskegee Airman, laid a wreath July 31
at the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va., to honor all Tuskegee
Airmen who participated in aircrew, ground crew and operations
support training in the Army Air Corps during World War II. The
Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators in
the U.S. armed forces. Five of the original Tuskegee Airmen were
present for the ceremony.
During the ceremony, McDew
distinguished the many monuments and locations visible from the Air
Force Memorial, where historic
moments in American history have been made.
"From our vantage point, we can see the Lincoln Memorial,
built to honor President Abraham Lincoln and where Dr. King
gave his 'I Have a Dream' speech," said the general during
his speech. "We see the steps of the U.S. Capitol where
President Obama took the oath of office. We see Arlington
Cemetery, where many of our nation's heroes are buried. We
can see the Pentagon, where seeds of doubt closed the door
on many good men; but, where ultimately many more doors were
opened. As I look to these landmarks, I realize that this is
where the incredible journey began."
McDew went on to
talk about the importance of words and the impact they have
had on American history.
"We all know that words and
their meanings are important; but let me remind you just
what impact the right words, or a turn of phrase, can have
on the course of history," he said. "One hundred fifty years
ago, President Lincoln gave his Gettysburg address. He used
just over 270 words to shape a nation; to force the idea of
civil rights and equality to the forefront of our national
years later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from the steps of
the Lincoln Memorial, used 1,058 words to boldly remind the
conscience of this great and mighty nation that each of her
citizens deserved the right to realize their full potential
and that each had earned the right to realize the promise of
the American dream," McDew continued.
"And only a few
short years ago, 39 words ushered in a new president," he
said. "In just 39 words we witnessed the fulfillment of part
of Dr. King's dream. We now live in a nation where a person
can be judged simply on the content of their character. Yes,
President Lincoln, all men are, in fact, created equal."
In closing, he gave thanks to the Tuskegee Airmen for
their contributions to America and the armed forces.
"On this, the 70th anniversary of the Tuskegee Airmen
experience, I thought it fitting to invoke President
Lincoln, Dr. King and President Obama, because their words
embody what the Tuskegee Airmen stood for, fought for, and
many died for," said the two-star general. "Seventy years is
but a moment. Yet in that moment, a group of determined
individuals boldly charted a course that would forever
change our nation and our Air Force. ... We look with pride
to the extraordinary impact you have made on our nation;
your legendary skills in combat; your strength of character
in the face of bias and ignorance; and your remarkable
contribution to the integration of the armed services."
During World War II, African Americans in many states
still were subject to racist Jim Crow laws. The American
military was racially segregated, as was much of the federal
government. The Tuskegee Airmen were subject to racial
discrimination, both within and outside the military.
Despite these adversities, they trained and flew with
After President Harry S. Truman ended
segregation in the military with Executive Order 9981 in
1948, the veteran Tuskegee Airmen found themselves in high
demand throughout the newly-formed U.S. Air Force.
Tuskegee Airmen Inc. is an organization dedicated to
keeping alive the history, achievements and importance of
the original Tuskegee Airmen. The organization exists
primarily to motivate and inspire young Americans to become
participants in society and the nation's democratic process,
said retired Brig. Gen. Leon Johnson, TAI president and
member of the Heart of America Chapter in Kansas.
TAI organization is hosting their 40th annual convention
Aug. 3-7 at the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center in
National Harbor, Md.
By Airman 1st Class Tabitha N. Haynes
Air Force District of
Washington Public Affairs
Air Force News Service
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