8/2/2010 – SAN ANTONIO (AFNS) — The red jackets of the Tuskegee Airmen remain as distinctive today as the red tail markings on the aircraft they flew during World War II. And their legacy — the influence they’ve had on Air Force operations, past and present — leaves an even more indelible mark. This was the message from the Air Force’s top uniformed officer when he addressed the 39th annual Tuskegee Airmen Convention here July 31. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz spoke at the convention’s National Presidential Awards and Grand Gala event and noted that the legacy of the famed African-American flying unit in the U.S. Army Air Corps lives on in the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. This is a unit, he said, that is “very proud to be a descendant of the 332nd Fighter Group led by Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr.”
“Like the Tuskegee Airmen they honor, the men and women of the 332nd today serve with distinction in hostile skies, operating a variety of weapons systems,” General Schwartz said. “They have been the mainstay of fulfilling full-spectrum airpower in Operation Iraqi Freedom from day one. By all measures, they represent the legacy you lived.”
General Schwartz also assisted in presenting awards for service to the organization, including two awards to original Tuskegee Airmen James Pryde for his military service that began during World War II, and the late Chauncey Spencer. Mr. Spencer’s son, Chauncey Spencer II, accepted the award for his father, an aviation pioneer whose work helped lead to the establishment of the Tuskegee aviation program.
The general acknowledged the Tuskegee Airmen in the audience, who were also easily identifiable by their red and blue coats, as among “the most storied on the roster of revered and unforgettable Americans, achieving remarkable feats despite challenging and unfavorable circumstances.” These Americans were the nation’s first African-American military Airmen. These pioneers, which included ground crews as well as traditional aircrews, helped lay the foundation for equality and integration in Armed Forces.
“The Airmen whose courage and sacrifice helped preserve the freedoms that we enjoy today and the youth who will soon inherit the mantle of leadership for our nation embody the theme of this year’s convention, ‘A Cut Above,’” General Schwartz said. “Without a doubt, the awe-inspiring story of the Tuskegee Airmen proves for all time their standing as a cut above.”
The general also praised the national organization that sponsors the annual convention for its efforts to preserve the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen while also motivating young Americans to pursue excellence and service to their nation.
General Schwartz said this outreach to the next generation of service members is another way in which the Tuskegee Airmen’s legacy continues to influence the success of Airmen. And, in keeping with the professional Air Force which the Tuskegee Airmen have helped forge, the general pledged the Air Force would “continue to seek those who are a cut above and to demand from them impeccable character, unwavering excellence, selfless service and unmistakable, unshakable optimism.” “Your Air Force will continue to be a place where talent, dedication and a bit of fortune can take one a long way, irrespective of one’s original station,” he said.
Other award recipients included Marv Abrams, of the San Antonio chapter, who received the Brig. Gen. Noel F. Parrish Award, the organization’s most prestigious award. General Parrish was commander of Tuskegee Army Air Field from 1942 to 1946. His widow, Florence T. Parrish-St. John, personally presents the award each year. This year, she herself was one of four recipients of the Gen. Daniel James Jr. Distinguished Service/Achievement/Leadership Award. Other recipients were Dr. Alan Gropman for his role as historian and advocate of the Tuskegee Experience.
Regional awards were also presented to James Coleman (western region), Maurice Ripley and Vince Saunders (central region) and John Earls (eastern region).
Source: The Official US Air Force website: http://www.af.mil