Tuskegee Fly-In Honors Airmen, 'A Tremendous Example For Our Youth'

TUSKEGEE -- In Tuskegee, the annual Fly-In means different things to different people, but the main theme is the focus on the Tuskegee Airmen, America's first black fighter pilots, who fought in World War II.

As people gathered for the 46th annual Tuskegee Fly-in Saturday, many gathered to pay tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen and their place in history. For retired Col. R.J. Lewis, who hosted the daylong event, it is important to remember the men and what they mean to people today.

"A tremendous example for our youth... are the Tuskegee Airmen," Lewis said.

During the Fly-In, visitors were allowed to occupy a variety of planes, as well as be taken up for stunt diving and to visit antique cars parked outside Moton Field. In addition, programs were offered both at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site and Moton Field Hangar to honor the Tuskegee Airmen.

For Gregory Grant, a retired soldier and member of the Atlanta chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., the Fly-In was an opportunity to wear a uniform akin to what the Tuskegee officers would wear on duty in homage to them. Grant was also friends with Charles "A-Train" Dryden, one of the original Airmen, who died in 2008.

"We need to continue to respect this place and what these men had to go through," Grant said.

For Wilbur Mason, his first job when he graduated Tuskegee Institute High School in 1944 was as a civilian employee at the Tuskegee Army Field. Little did he know that his work with the Tuskegee Airmen would be an involvement in a major shift in history, where black servicemen were considered for more than menial tasks.

"We had a good organization there and we did our jobs to the best of our ability, but as far as making history or anything like that, that didn't occur to us," Mason said. "We were just trying to do the best job we could."

Mason worked as a storekeeper at the base, keeping inventory of supplies, and was eventually promoted to an inspector at the field before it was shuttered in 1947. In the years since, Mason continues to be grateful for his service in Tuskegee and the fact that the Fly-In still seeks to honor those who worked there.

"The Tuskegee Airmen created such a legacy for the Afro-American race because before them, we were not accepted into anything but menial test operations," Mason said. "They gave us the first opportunity to serve and not be a servant."

Mason said there are still many lessons to be gleaned from the example set by the Tuskegee Airmen.

"In all our lives, somewhere along the line we have hardship," Mason said. "To realize how the Tuskegee Airmen were in a situation where they had to overcome should give you courage to know that if they can overcome those conditions, surely you can overcome your condition."

For Pleshette Smith, coming to the Fly-In was an opportunity to come to a special event she had never been to, even though she has lived in Tuskegee for years.

"I pass by here every day and had never been here," Smith said.

Smith said she and her children had a good time attending. Her 7-year old daughter, Contera, said her favorite part was visiting the nearby Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site and getting to see firsthand the planes they flew.

"It was fun to get into the plane," Contera said.

For Ethel Tatum, the Fly-In is a reunion of sorts, where she can simply have fun outside.

"I get to see old friends and family out here," Tatum said.

Tatum said she also appreciates the history honored during the event.

"A lot of history is right here," Tatum said. "It's good to bring the kids out to where it all began." ___

(c)2013 the Opelika-Auburn News (Opelika, Ala.)

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Tuskegee Airmen - Vintage