By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (April 05, 2007) -- More than 300 members of the Tuskegee Airmen were honored March 29 in the U.S. Capitol building's Rotunda with the nation's top civilian award -- the Congressional Gold Medal.
Representatives of the highest levels of American government gathered at the Capitol to recognize the contributions of the men and women that made up the Tuskegee Airmen. Among those included in the ceremony were President of the United States George W. Bush; Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin; Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Charles B. Rangel.
Senator Levin and Representative Rangel ensured legislation passed through both the Senate and the House so Congress could honor the Tuskegee Airmen.
Senator Levin praised the Airmen for what they brought to the fight, telling them their place in history had been assured by their own actions.
"Your place in history was not established by the medal you will receive, it was assured when as young men, you put on the uniform of this nation and defended this nation, and demonstrated your faith in what this nation could become," he said.
President Bush thanked the Airmen and told them of the experience of a WWII pilot he knows -- his father. He said his father's unit was a good unit, but wasn't expected to face the same challenges the Tuskegee Airmen did.
"Nobody told them they were a credit to their race and nobody refused to return their salute," he said.
President Bush didn't hesitate to throw up a salute of his own, however.
"On behalf of the office I hold, and the country that honors you, I salute you for your service to the United States of America," he said.
The Congressional Gold Medal was presented by President Bush, Nancy Pelosi and President pro tempore of the United States Senate Robert C. Byrd. Following the presentation, Dr. Roscoe Brown Jr., one of the many Tuskegee Airmen present at the event, thanked legislators for making the award possible.
"We are so overjoyed at the acceptance of the Congressional Gold Medal and we want to thank the Congress, Senator Levin, Congressman Rangel, and both the House and the Senate for voting unanimously to award this medal collectively to the pilots, the bombardiers, the navigators, the mechanics, the ground officers, and the....men and women who served in the Tuskegee Airmen," he said.
The Tuskegee Airmen were an all-black flying unit that fought during World War II. Their success in the face of the enemy flew in the face of both American and military culture as well. With racism and segregation rampant at the time, few believed black men could fly or could perform well in war. The Tuskegee Airmen's record in WWII proved everybody wrong, and paved the war for integration of the military following the war.