May 24, 2007

Original Tuskegee Airmen to Participate in the National Memorial Day Parade

WASHINGTON, May 24 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As Americans watch the National Memorial Day Parade, Bill Broadwater hopes that young and old alike will take notice of the AMVETS float on which he and a half dozen members of the original Tuskegee Airmen, the all black Army Air Corps squadron established during WWII and based in Tuskegee, Ala., will be riding.

"The military never really intended for us to become pilots," said Broadwater, 81, who entered the service in 1944. In those days, he said, there was so much racism in America that few people were willing to give black airmen a chance to participate in combat or other military missions.

But after First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt publicly praised the performance of the Tuskegee pilots, public pressure grew to allow Tuskegee airmen to fly military missions, and they eventually got their chance, initially in Africa and later in Europe. "We proved that not only could we fly airplanes, but we could fly as well as anyone in the European theatre," said Broadwater, who frequently speaks to schoolchildren about the contributions of the famed black pilots, who fought to end segregation in the U.S. military at the same time they were fighting America's adversaries overseas.

"The message to learn from all of this," Broadwater said, "is never to let anyone tell you that you can't do something."

It's a message AMVETS hopes rings loud and clear. The Lanham, Md.-based veterans service organization, which asked to sponsor the Tuskegee Airmen float, is the only national veterans service organization that represents all veterans, regardless of when or where they served.

"We think it's important to recognize the Tuskegee Airmen because they demonstrated not only how African Americans fought for the right to fly, but how they succeeded in providing exemplary service that changed the face of the military forever. They also demonstrated the fact that we're stronger as a country if we're working together toward common goals rather than against each other," said Tom McGriff, AMVETS' national commander.

Although Broadwater went through extensive training, he never got the chance to fly military missions overseas because the war ended in the Pacific by the time he was ready to fly. He left the service in 1946 and tried to find work as a commercial pilot. But even after securing one of the top 10 scores in a pilot's test for Eastern Airlines, he couldn't get hired because union agreements prohibited African Americans from flying commercial aircraft.

It wasn't until the Federal Aviation Administration filed a lawsuit in 1964, in fact, that black pilots finally won the ability to fly commercial aircraft. Broadwater himself actively supported that effort, having obtained work as an FAA air traffic controller.

"While we certainly haven't reached parity, America has come a long ways from those days," said Broadwater, who worked for 28 years as an FAA air traffic controller, 16 years of which he spent in the Washington, D.C. area.

Broadwater said it's important for young and old alike to recognize the contributions that African Africans have made to keep America safe and secure.

"More than 210,000 blacks fought in defense of the union in the Civil War," he said. "My own great grandfather, Charles Still, fought in the 24th Colored Infantry Company F in Maryland on the union side. Free blacks also fought in the French and Indian Wars before the American Revolution."

Broadwater and the other Tuskegee Airmen riding on AMVETS' Memorial Day Parade float, including William G. Wilson, Sam Rhodes, Cicero Satterfield and Ivan Ware are available for media interviews in advance of Monday's parade. To coordinate media interviews, please contact Jeff Crider at (760) 469-5905.

A leader since 1944 in preserving the freedoms secured by America's Armed Forces, AMVETS is the only veterans service organization that represents members of every branch of the military, including the National Guard and Reserve. AMVETS provides support for veterans and the active military in procuring their earned entitlements as well as community services that enhance veterans' quality of life. More information on AMVETS can be found at


CONTACT: Jeff Crider, +1-760-469-5905, or Joe Chenelly, +1-301-683-4035,both of AMVETS

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