A special induction ceremony conducted by leaders of the Tuskegee University ROTC Hall of Fame on Saturday, March 7, solidified the historic connection between the university and the famed Tuskegee Airmen. It also helped to celebrate the state’s first “Tuskegee Airmen Day” designed by a proclamation signed by Gov. Kay Ivey on March 5.
“Today, we reflect on the legacy of a group of pilots who understood their purpose and served their country — overcoming desegregation and extreme prejudice to become the most highly respected and trusted group of all-black fighter pilots of World War II,” said Acting President Ruby L. Perry. “In spite of it all, they proved themselves to the world, over and over again, and left us with a legacy to always reflect upon and to be forever grateful.”
The ROTC Hall of Fame’s newest inductees included recently promoted Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Charles Ernest McGee, who brought out the ceremonial coin for the recent Super Bowl coin flip and was later highlighted by President Donald J. Trump during his Feb. 4 State of the Union address. McGee’s U.S. Air Force service spanned three-plus decades, during which time the three-war fighter pilot flew a combined 409 combat missions. For his service, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bronze Star Medal among other military honors. President George W. Bush presented McGee and other surviving Tuskegee Airmen with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007, and in 2011, he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Accepting on McGee’s behalf was Lt. Col. Ted Lumpkin, a noted intelligence officer for the Tuskegee Airmen.
Lt. Col. (Ret.) Herbert Eugene Carter enrolled in Tuskegee’s Civilian Pilot Training Program in 1942 and later earned two degrees from the university: a bachelor’s degree in industrial education in 1955, and a master’s in administration and supervision in 1969. Between that time — as a member of the 99th Flying Training Squadron — he served as both its chief of maintenance and as a fighter pilot, flying 77 combat missions in the North African, Sicilian and European campaigns. He would later become a professor of aerospace studies at Tuskegee, as well as associate dean of student services and administration before retiring from the university in 1985. In 2004, Carter received the French Legion of Honour Award for outstanding service rendered to France during WWII.
Accepting on Carter’s behalf were his siblings Joyce Carter-Hill and Donnell Carter.
Also inducted was the 99th Fighter Squadron — the official designation for the personnel receiving their initial flight training at Moton Field and nicknamed the “Tuskegee Airmen.” The U.S. Army Air Force’s first African American fighter squadron, it was commissioned in March 1941 as the 99th Pursuit Squadron. The squadron went to North Africa, where it came under the overseas command of Capt. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. and was attached to the all-white 33rd Fighter Group. Three times the 99th received Distinguished Unit Citations for its performance in combat. The squadron flew more than 15,000 individual sorties in Europe and North Africa, and its impressive performance earned its pilots more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses and led to the eventual racial integration of the U.S. Armed Forces in 1948.
Representing and accepting on behalf of the 99th Fighter Squadron was Lt. Col. (Ret.) George Hardy.
Citing the important work the Friends of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site Inc. performs in preserving the Tuskegee Airmen legacy, Col. (Ret.) Anthony C. Aiken Sr. invited Col. (Ret.) Palmer Sullins Jr., the organization’s chair and a 2016 charter ROTC Hall of Fame inductee; Col. (Ret.) Teresa Townsend, 2016 charter ROTC Hall of Fame inductee, and executive director, and Tuskegee Airmen and Families State President Col. Roosevelt J. Lewis, and administrative director Maggie Thomas to represent the collective induction of the Airmen — not just the pilots, but the mechanics, instructors, crew chiefs, nurses, cooks and other support personnel for the pilots — into the ROTC Hall of Fame
“These men and women left Tuskegee and went around the world doing some tremendous things representing this university,” Aiken said. “Now they are forever inducted into Tuskegee’s ROTC Hall of Fame.”
Established in 2016, Tuskegee University’s ROTC Hall of Fame — nearing a membership of 100 individual and group inductees — honors individuals who have exemplified the attributes of leadership, integrity, moral courage and self-discipline commonly associated with military service. Those eligible for induction include Tuskegee graduates, former students and others who are or have been commissioned into the U.S. Armed Forces, participated in the university’s ROTC programs, or earned a commission upon graduating and pursued military service as a career are eligible for induction — provided they meet other rank meritorious service requirements.
“Tuskegee Airmen Day”
The ROTC Hall of Fame induction ceremony was part of the larger Airmen Legacy Breakfast — hosted by Friends of Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site Inc. and celebrating the naming of March 7 as “Tuskegee Airmen Day” each year in Alabama. The day will commemorate the date in 1942 when the first five members of the 99th Pursuit Squadron earned their pilots’ wings.
“It feels great — the day is here,” said Sullins said to a Kellogg Conference Center ballroom packed with hundreds of guests in addition to the Airmen honorees.
On Thursday, March 5, the Alabama legislature held a joint session of both chambers to honor the Tuskegee Airmen. The session was hosted on the floor of the House of Representatives by State Rep. Pebblin Warren, also a university trustee, and included remarks by State Sen. Billy Beasley — both of whom represent the Tuskegee community in the Alabama Legislature. Gov. Kay Ivey credited the Tuskegee Airmen for their “substantial role in the desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces by proving African Americans had no shortage of intelligence, skill, courage or patriotism” in her “Tuskegee Airmen Day” proclamation, also signed on March 5.
About the Friends of Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site Inc.
Friends of Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, a 501(c)(3) organization works closely with the National Park Service to preserve the Airmen’s legacy and to help maintain the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moton Field through financial and volunteer support. In addition to its ongoing fundraising efforts, the organization is sponsoring a commemorative Alabama license plate honoring the Airmen. For more or to donate, visit www.friendsoftuskegeeairmennhs.org.
© 2020, Tuskegee University; includes content contributed by the Friends of Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site Inc.