History must be remembered, two Air Force veterans said, including that of the black American military personnel who wanted to fight for their country despite segregationist laws and policies that held them back during World War II and later.
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Thomas A. Smith and retired Technical Sgt. Leonard "Hawk" Hunter made the comments to about 70 people on Sunday during the Veterans Day Program at American Legion Post 202 in Fayetteville.
Smith is the president and Hunter is the historian for the Wilson V. Eagleson Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc.
The organization is named in honor of the nation's first black military pilots -- they got flight training from Tuskegee Institute in Alabama shortly before the U.S. entered World War II -- and the pilots' support staff. It works to maintain the history of the airmen and support education.
Smith, who lives in Goldsboro, is a behavioral specialist at a school who tries to help steer children ages 4 to 11 onto a good path in life.
The Tuskegee Airmen organization has adopted a school, he said, to teach the heritage. Schools don't teach much about early African-American military units such as the airmen and the Buffalo Soldiers, Smith said.
Hunter recounted the Tuskegee Airmen's history.
Some leaders didn't believe that black men could be good fighter pilots, he said, but first lady Eleanor Roosevelt had faith in them, so much so that she visited the Tuskegee Institute and went for a plane ride.
Pilots did well
The fighters performed well defending American bombers from the German aircraft, Hunter said. The bomber crews and their spouses thanked them, he said.
Despite their black aviators' performance and desegregation that followed the war, Hunter said racism continued in the military.
He said he saw it when he served in Vietnam in the 1960s.