WWII’s Tuskegee Airmen Invited to Inauguration

AP, December 10, 2008

The Tuskegee Airmen, who made history during World War II as the country’s first black military pilots only to return home to discrimination and exclusion from victory parades, have been invited to Barack Obama’s inauguration.

“I want to come hopping, skipping and jumping!” said 92-year-old Spann Watson, an airman from Westbury, N.Y. who flew above Pennsylvania Avenue for President Truman’s inauguration. “We had a part in changing these United States.”

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“It makes us very very proud,” said Harrison, of Philadelphia. “And it sort of compensates for a lot of the things that we had to endure in the early days.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sent the invitation Tuesday to Tuskegee Airmen Inc. The Arlington, Va.-based organization represents 330 of the original pilots, whose ranks were once about 1,000.

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After fighting the Nazis, they returned home to face discrimination. Watson, the New York airman, said blacks weren’t allowed to participate in victory parades with other troops returning from Europe during World War II.

“We were excluded out of everything and hidden from everything,” he said. “Now this time is our time, and to have a black man as the elected president, this is indeed a turn in history.”

Each member will receive two tickets to the Jan. 20 inauguration, and they have 10 days to decide if they will attend.

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Rose, speaking from his home in Bellevue, Neb., said his local chapters are contacting airmen. Most are in their late 80s and early 90s, making travel difficult. The logistics involved, such as finding increasingly expensive and scarce hotel rooms, also may prevent some from showing up.

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