President George W. Bush speaks during the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for the Tuskegee Airmen Thursday, March 29, 2007, at the U.S. Capitol. Said the President, “The Tuskegee Airmen helped win a war, and you helped change our nation for the better. Yours is the story of the human spirit, and it ends like all great stories do – with wisdom and lessons and hope for tomorrow.”
The Tuskegee Airmen, the 332nd Fighter Group, were honored today with the Congressional Gold Medal. Over 300 of the pilots and support crew were in Statuary Hall in the US Capitol Building for the ceremony.
This group of men were the first Negro pilots in the United States Army Air Corps. They flew as bomber escorts in the European theater, and have the distinction of being the only escort group to never loose a bomber to enemy fire in over 200 missions.
Yet, they were subject to segregation and discrimination - both during the war and afterwards. It was common for salutes not to be given or returned.
President Bush said he would like to "offer a gesture to help atone for all the unreturned salutes and unforgivable indignities," saluted the airmen. The airmen stood, returned the salute and applauded.
Dr. Roscoe Brown, a former commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group, thanked the President, the House and Senate for "voting unanimously to award this medal collectively to the the pilots, bombardiers, the navigators, the mechanics, the ground officers, the enlisted men and women who served with the Tuskegee Airmen."
President Bush added, "I benefited from what you and so many others did. It is a rich history. I stand so proudly before you today, but I know in the depth of my heart that the only reason I'm able to stand proudly before you today is because you stood proudly for America 60 years ago."
The combat record of the Tuskegee Airmen speaks for itself:
- over 15,000 combat sorties (including 6000+ for the 99th prior to July '44)
- 111 German airplanes destroyed in the air, another 150 on the ground
- 950 railcars, trucks, and other motor vehicles destroyed
- 1 destroyer sunk by P-47 machine gun fire (Lt. Pierson's flight)
- sixty-six pilots killed in action or accidents
- thirty-two pilots downed and captured, POWs
- NO bombers lost while being escorted by the 332nd, a unique achievement
- 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses earned
- 744 Air Medals
- 8 Purple Hearts
- 14 Bronze Stars