McKinley: America Must Preserve Tuskegee Airmen’s Legacy

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2011 — As the accom­plish­ments of the World War II-era Tuskegee Air­men fade into U.S. his­to­ry, a grate­ful nation must work to keep their lega­cy alive, the chief of the Nation­al Guard Bureau said at the 40th annu­al Tuskegee Air­men con­ven­tion.

“The real­i­ty of human behav­ior is that the fur­ther in time we get from an event in his­to­ry, the fur­ther it slips from our mem­o­ry,” Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKin­ley said Aug. 5 at the gath­er­ing of the group named for the nation’s first African-Amer­i­can fight­er pilots at Nation­al Har­bor, Md. “I don’t want to see this hap­pen to the lega­cy of the Tuskegee Air­men.”

The mil­i­tary made a tan­gi­ble step in pre­serv­ing the unit’s her­itage when in 2007 the 187th Fight­er Wing of the Alaba­ma Air Nation­al Guard deac­ti­vat­ed its 160th Fight­er Squadron and reac­ti­vat­ed it as the 100th Fight­er Squadron in hon­or of the Tuskegee Air­men, said McKin­ley, who was direc­tor of the Air Nation­al Guard at the time. But, there is more the mil­i­tary and the nation can do to pre­serve and repli­cate their lega­cy, he said.

McKin­ley spoke of the airmen’s com­mit­ment to ser­vice, not­ing that it came dur­ing a time of Jim Crow seg­re­ga­tion laws when “this coun­try was telling African-Amer­i­cans they couldn’t stay in the same hotels as white peo­ple, they couldn’t attend the same schools as white peo­ple, and in some cas­es, they couldn’t even enter a build­ing through the same door as white peo­ple.

“Why then would the Tuskegee Air­men in the 1940s choose to fight for our coun­try?” the gen­er­al asked. “I’ll bet that if you asked the orig­i­nal Tuskegee Air­men … a com­mon answer would be com­mit­ment to ser­vice and pre­serv­ing our nation for the next gen­er­a­tion to make it bet­ter.”

All ser­vice mem­bers can car­ry on the lega­cy of the Tuskegee Air­men by striv­ing for excel­lence, McKin­ley said. He not­ed the accom­plish­ments of the air­men, which include more than 16,000 com­bat sor­ties with 115 Ger­man air­craft destroyed in the air and anoth­er 150 on the ground, and 950 Ger­man vehi­cles destroyed. Their com­men­da­tions include three Dis­tin­guished Unit Cita­tions, about 150 Dis­tin­guished Fly­ing Cross­es, at least one Sil­ver Star, 14 Bronze Stars, 748 Air Medals and eight Pur­ple Hearts.

“If you want an exam­ple of excel­lence, there it is,” McKin­ley said to applause.

The mil­i­tary can do more to car­ry on the Tuskegee Airmen’s lega­cy, he said, by con­duct­ing out­reach to make more young peo­ple eli­gi­ble for recruit­ment. Pen­ta­gon sta­tis­tics show that three out of four Amer­i­cans ages 17 through 24, and more often minori­ties, can­not be recruit­ed due to inad­e­quate edu­ca­tion, health prob­lems or crim­i­nal his­to­ry, he said.

The ser­vices also must con­tin­ue with efforts to pro­mote diver­si­ty as a core val­ue, mak­ing its lead­er­ship as diverse as Amer­i­ca, and hold senior offi­cers account­able for progress, McKin­ley said.

Also, the gen­er­al said, the nation needs to prime its young peo­ple to main­tain U.S. supe­ri­or­i­ty in sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, not­ing increased com­pe­ti­tion from Chi­na, Rus­sia, Cana­da and Brazil in avi­a­tion and aero­space.

“We have to ask our­selves, who is going to design America’s unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cle tech­nol­o­gy of the future?” he said. “Who will build the next stealth bomber? Who will go to Mars?”

With few­er and few­er Amer­i­cans hav­ing a fam­i­ly mem­ber who served in the mil­i­tary, McKin­ley said, ser­vice mem­bers and vet­er­ans must serve as the exam­ple. And, for those who can­not serve in the mil­i­tary, he encour­aged oth­er forms of ser­vice, such as the Peace Corps and Ameri­Corps.

“Those of us who have influ­ence over the younger gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans can encour­age them to con­tin­ue the tra­di­tion of Amer­i­can avi­a­tion and to fol­low the Tuskegee Airmen’s exam­ple of ser­vice to our nation above self,” he said. “For 70 years, the Tuskegee Air­men have right­ful­ly been hailed as America’s heroes. Through the actions we take start­ing today, we can ensure that their lega­cy lives — then, now and in the future.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)