published Saturday, February 15th, 2014

Tuskegee Airmen will be celebrated

The Opelika-Auburn News

OPELIKA, Ala. — Surviving Tuskegee Airmen will be celebrated this weekend at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site today and at two area church events Sunday.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators. Between 1941 and 1946, hundreds of pilots graduated from the Tuskegee Army Air Field. Combined, the Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 1,000 combat missions during World War II.

Today, more than 80 documented original Tuskegee Airmen will attend a commemoration ceremony for the opening of Hangar 2 at Moton Field, which has been closed for historical restoration since 2005.

"This is the very first time in our community that we will have access to these original airmen," Tuskegee Airmen Administrative Director Maggie Thomas said. "With their being late 80s and some in their early 90s and older, we are losing them every day. Time is of the essence."

Hangar 2 was completed in 1944 in response to expanding operations and included a control tower, parachute packing area, training room and support facilities. Now the hangar serves as a museum, featuring artifacts, a film and oral histories of Tuskegee Airmen.

The Skyway Club will also open today. The club has been restored in 1940s furnishings, including a jukebox and Skyway bar, and replicates the space where airmen relaxed.

The event is free and open to the public.

On Sunday, Pleasant View Missionary Baptist Church in Salem will host original airman and flight instructor Roscoe Draper of the 99th Squadron during an 11 a.m. worship service. Roosevelt Lewis Jr., a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, will also give a short presentation on the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Lewis, a historian, has researched the Tuskegee Airmen for more than 30 years. During his military career, he received a number of awards and decorations and served as a commander on four occasions. He now serves as an adjunct professor of history, leadership and management at the Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery.

Lewis will also be the featured speaker at an event hosted by the Auburn District Women's Department.

Several Tuskegee Airmen will be in attendance. Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller will also present the airmen with a key to the city.

The public is invited to attend both Sunday events.

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