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Tuskegee Airmen Top Guns Celebrated

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Event looks back at the accomplishments of America’s heroes

By Rory O’Sullivan –

The University of California, Riverside 7th Annual Tuskegee Airmen celebration recent ly honored the men who became the first African-American pilots to serve in the United States armed forces.

The event featured one of two surviving Tuskegee Airmen, Top Gun pilot Lt. Col. James Harvey III and Master Sgt . Buford Johnson, chief mechanic for the team of African-American pilots. The 332nd Fighter Group team of Tuskegee Airmen included Capt. Alva Temple, 1st Lt. Harry Stewart, and alternate pilot 1st Lt. Halbert Alexander.

This group of pilots won the first ever Top Gun competition on May 2, 1949 but was not recognized as the winners until April 1995.

“We did the best job every time. We were not even thinking about desegregation but doing the best job we can do,” said Sgt. Johnson.

Harvey nor Johnson let the racism of the time stop them. Both men believed in being the best and said it is this characteristic that defines the Tuskegee Airmen.

Their message to the youth was to get as much education as they can.

“It’s like having your bags packed so when the door of opportunity opens you can step through to your future,” said Lt. Col. Harvey.

Sixteen-year-old Melanie Ricks, a member of Martin Luther King, Jr. High School Navy Junior ROTC called the men “inspirational.”

Lt. Col. Harvey later became the military’s first African- American jet fighter pilot to fly missions over Korea while Sgt. Johnson became the first African-American aircraft mechanic certified and assigned by the U.S. military to work on jets.

“The importance of an event like this one is that it is an opportunity to have the airmen telling their unique history while they are still alive,” said University Librarian Ruth M. Jackson. “Their efforts and service lead to the integration of the U.S. armed services.”

UCR’s Tuskegee Airmen archive is one of the largest in the nation and free to the public.

More information can be found at http://library.ucr.edu/tuskegee/ or by contacting 951-827- 6384.

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