BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. – The Tuskegee Airmen were recognized for their courage and valor in combat, as they helped pave the way for racial integration in the armed services, by receiving the 2014 Omar N. Bradley "Spirit of Independence Award" in a ceremony held at the 2014 Duck Commander Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.
Representing the Tuskegee Airmen at the ceremony were Homer Hogues and Calvin Spann.
According to the Spirit of Independence Award website, the award has been given out annually at the Independence Bowl, recognizing outstanding American citizens and organizations that symbolize the spirit of freedom and independence. The first recipient of the award was U.S. Army General Omar N. Bradley, the only living five-star general at that time. The following year and until his death, Bradley presented the “Spirit of Independence Award” to his fellow recipients. After his death, the General’s name was added to the award.
When Spann was told that the Tuskegee Airmen were receiving the award, he only had a few words to say.
"That's fantastic and I am excited that the Tuskegee Airmen are being recognized in front of all of America," he said.
Spann, a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, served in Italy during World War II where he was a P-51 Mustang pilot and flew in 26 combat missions.
"I take great pride in being one of the pioneers who paved the way for all African-Americans in aviation," Spann said. "We are happy that the Tuskegee Airmen are being recognized for their contributions."
Both Hogues and Spann visited Barksdale Air Force Base earlier that day to meet with aviators and maintainers.
Hogues, an aircraft mechanic with the Tuskegee Airmen, was ecstatic about the visit and the opportunity to meet with maintainers and aviators of the current generation.
"I felt honored by the reception we received here," Hogues said. "It was great being able to meet with these guys."
The Barksdale AFB maintainers and aviators were grateful to meet and brief the living legends on their mission and aircraft.
"I was starstruck by their visit," said Maj. Millard Matthews, a 11th Bomb Squadron electronic warfare officer. "I feel immensely honored and privileged to be able to meet them. My father was an aircraft mechanic during the Vietnam War, and he would be thrilled if he was alive today to be able to meet the individuals who paved the way for him and all generations."
During the reception and briefing held by the aviators and maintainers of the B-52H Stratofortress, Spann and Hogues could not get enough of what the Airmen had to say.
"To have them be interested in our aircraft, ask us questions and be impressed with the answers is truly spectacular," Matthews said. "It was tremendous to be able to witness history and also share with them the B-52 and our heritage."