Almost every fan of military aviation or World War II historian has heard of the Tuskegee Airmen. They were the first African-American aviators in the United States military and led the way to the eventual integration of our armed forces.

But I was today years old when I learned that some of the Tuskegee Airmen actually passed through Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls on their way to train at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama.

Texoma's Homepage is reporting that Sheppard is officially renaming '5th Avenue' to 'Tuskegee Airmen Avenue.'

When these brave aviators took flight the United States was still deeply racially divided with numerous Jim Crow laws on the books. After their training they became full-fledged aviators as not only pilots but also navigators, bombardiers, mechanics, instructors, crew chiefs, nurses, cooks, and other various support personnel positions.

While the Tuskegee Airmen are most commonly associated with the P-51 Mustang, they also flew numerous other fighters including the P-47 Thunderbolt, P-39 Airacobra, P-40 Warhawk, and even the B-25 Mitchell bomber.

Dave Diamond
Dave Diamond

Collectively, the unit earned over 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses over the course of their missions. Their bomber escort aircraft were sometimes referred to as the 'Red Tails' due to the tail rudders on their fighters being painted red.

In naming a street after them, 82nd Training Wing and Installation Commander Brig. Gen. Kenyon Bell told Texoma's Homepage that it was special to be a part of this day, and that some of the things he's been able to accomplish during his Air Force career would not have been possible had it not been for the Tuskegee Airmen, adding that they were capable and able to do things that every other American can do and do it extremely well.

What a fitting weekend to honor these airmen as we celebrate our nation's independence and salute all who have put on a uniform for this great country.

LOOK: 100 years of American military history

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