May 4, 1997 in Nation/World

Hundreds Attend Tuskegee Airmen Exhibit

Associated Press

Hundreds of people turned out Saturday for the opening of a museum exhibit dedicated to black fighter pilots who helped pave the way for desegregation in the military.

“America’s Black Eagles - The Tuskegee Pioneers … and Beyond,” a 5,000-square-foot display at the Museum of Aviation at Robins Air Force Base, details the story of World War II airmen recruited from Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute.

As members of the 332nd Fighter Group, they flew more than 200 escort missions during the war without losing a single bomber to enemy attack - a feat still unmatched by any air force.

They also shot down more than 100 enemy aircraft and sank a German destroyer, according to the Air Force.

The group’s history dates to July 1941, when the War Department wanted to see if blacks could fly fighter planes.

Their showing helped end segregation in the armed forces. In July 1948, President Truman signed an executive order paving the way for integration in the military.

“They broke down the doors for us,” said Lt. Col. Don Woodard, one of dozens of black airmen waiting to meet the Tuskegee veterans Saturday. “They gave us the opportunity that we have today.”

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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