OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - The commanding general of the "Big Red One" applauded the contributions of America's first black military aviators during a dinner celebrating the Tuskegee Airmen May 14.

"Tuskegee Airmen are an inspiration, for me and for many generations yet to come," said Maj. Gen. Vincent Brooks, commanding general of the 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley. "They live on in each of us who commit to the principals that made them successful so long ago."

The legend of the Tuskegee Airmen dates back to 1941 when the Army Air Corps initiated a program to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. Prior to that date, black men were barred from flying for the U.S. military based on the then-generally accepted thought that they lacked the intelligence, skills, courage and patriotism to do so.

The black aviation cadets began training at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Ala. in July 1941. Five pilots successfully completed the initial round of training. By 1946, the number of black pilots trained at Tuskegee had grown to almost 1,000.

Considered one of the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen proved that African Americans could indeed fly and maintain sophisticated aircraft as they completed more than 1,500 combat missions throughout the war.

Many historians believe the "Tuskegee Experiment" was the first step toward the full integration of the U.S. military.

Outlining a few notable "Black patriot" firsts, including his own status as the first black First Captain at the U.S. Military Academy and the first black commander of the 1st Inf. Div., Brooks thanked the four original Tuskegee Airmen present at the dinner for paving the way for all African American military members.

"Would I have been anywhere I have been without the Tuskegee Airmen' I don't think I would have," Brooks said. "It's not a matter of my talent; it's a matter of not being denied the opportunity. The talent has always been there; the opportunity has not. It was this time ... because there is no question of the result of the Tuskegee Experiment."

Original Tuskegee Airman retired Maj. George Boyd said it is important to keep the memory of the Tuskegee Airmen alive to show each passing generation that nothing worth doing is ever easy.

"Tonight we honor the courage and perseverance" of the Tuskegee Airmen, Boyd said. "We hope this inspires our youth to learn all they can and be the best they can be."

Edward King, president of the Heart of America Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., said the Saturday night dinner, which welcomed several Kansas City-area youth, was a great opportunity to remind a new generation of the qualities that made the Tuskegee Airmen successful, all of which are still important today.

"Intelligence, skills, hard work and determination are qualities that make America great," he said.
Brooks said although the number of original Tuskegee Airmen is quickly dwindling, time will never erase the amazing contribution of the men who fought both World War II and the war on racism and prejudice more than 70 years ago.

"Tuskegee Airmen, I salute you and I appreciate you," he said. "Know that you live on and on and on in the service of those who still serve and in those who are yet to come."