FORT STEWART, Ga. (April 21, 2015) -- "I do want to say, I'm a proud lady today."
While Sgt. Amelia Jones was proud, all in attendance for her ceremony, April 19, were there to express a nation's pride, and to recognize Jones and her service to her country.
Jones, a 95-year-old veteran of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, said the above quote in front of a large audience after being presented a bronze replica of a Congressional Gold Medal by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., along with Brig. Gen. James Blackburn and Command Sgt. Maj. Stanley Varner, command team for Task Force Marne, 3rd Infantry Division.
Family, friends, and admirers attended the momentous ceremony to honor not only Jones' service, but also what that service meant for her, for the armed forces and for the nation, then and now.
According to the Tuskegee Airmen's official website, the Tuskegee Airmen were credited for paving the way for the fully integrated armed service, which exists today.
While today's armed forces are integrated, during the Tuskegee Airmen's era, service in the nation's armed forces was done on a different landscape. The grievous misconception that African-Americans were inferior was unfortunately still alive and well back then.
In fact, according to online sources, before 1940, African-Americans were barred from flying for the U.S. military and the services were still very much segregated. However, civil advocacy groups lobbied for greater equality. While change was slow, and segregation still existed, this advocacy initially resulted in the creation of an all African-American squadron based in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1941. They became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
"The Tuskegee Airmen overcame segregation and prejudice to become one of the most highly-respected fighter groups of World War II," states the Tuskegee Airmen official website. "They proved conclusively that African-Americans could fly and maintain sophisticated combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen's achievements, together with the men and women who supported them, paved the way for full integration of the U.S. military."
Jones' challenges were more than just racial barriers however, by and large, the military was still a men's-only club.
Indeed, women couldn't even serve in the same corps as the men. A separate corps existed, which was known as the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, also known as WAAC.
Altogether, this meant that to join the service, Jones had to do more than get drafted, which was the standard mode of enlistment at the time. She volunteered, and in turn, had to fight her way through racial and gender barriers. In fact, she had to compete for her enlistment, meeting very specific requirements, which the Army put forth, Jones said.
Regardless of the challenge, Jones was determined, and credits her family for inspiring her to join.
"I thought it [would be] quite an adventure, because of my two older brothers, who were in World War I, by being around them as a smaller kid I learned so much, but I wanted to experience it for myself, and that I did," Jones said.
Travel became Jones' passion, and the part of her service she looks back upon with the most regard.
"The most interesting thing [to me], about being in the WAAC, was the travel - it was fascinating. I met so many people that I read about and I heard about; it was a wonderful tour to be in the WAAC," she said.
Throughout Jones' life, she has embraced and valued selfless service, and implores others to do the same today.
"I think that each and every one of the young girls and boys of today, of this time, should try to see what its all about ... you have to volunteer to give someone your service, you can't sit down and let someone fight your battles - travel yourself, learn for yourself, experience for yourself, you'll be a better person," Jones said. "There is so much you can learn by traveling... you should have no fear."
Undoubtedly, it was Jones' love for traveling and lack of fear that lead her to discover her status as a Tuskegee Airmen, a fact she was unaware until a fateful meeting less than a year ago.
As her retelling goes, it was not until she participated in an "honor flight," hosted by the National Mall and Memorial Parks at the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C., that she even found out that she was considered a Tuskegee Airman.
During her visit to the World War II Memorial, Jones met John McCaskill, a park ranger working the event.
After some conversation between the two, McCaskill came to realize that Jones was an as-of-yet unrecognized Tuskegee Airman. He explained to her as much, and did much to assist her in being officially recognized for her service.
"I was surprised when I was informed I was to be recognized," Jones said. "I give all the credit to [John McCaskill] ... I was lost, but he found me."
As the ceremony to honor Jones and her service progressed, it seemed that the more attendees heard of Jones' story, the more it became apparent that she was a very unique individual, a fact that did not escape Sen. Isakson.
"Amelia Robinson Jones, you are a special lady," Isakson told all those in attendance. "[Others] told me ... 'you're going to see Ms. Jones, she is 95 years old.' I got here and found out that's her octane, she's not really 95 years old.
"I told her if I was a little bit younger man I'd ask her out on a date, but I don't know if I could keep up with her or not," Isakson joked.
While Isakson opened up his remarks with a bit of humor, there wasn't any joking when he described just how proud he was to be there honoring Jones.
"We are so proud today to be at Hospice Savannah to pay tribute to a great American, a great South Carolinian, who is now in Georgia, a great member of the United States Army Air Corps, and a very special and beautiful lady Ms. Amelia Robinson Jones," Isakson said. "May God bless you and thank you for your service."
Other contributors to this story include the Tuskegee Airmen at http://tuskegeeairmen.org/explore-tai/a-brief-history/