The skies over Waycross were a special shade of blue Saturday as the lives of 21 Georgia men who served with the Tuskegee Airmen were honored for their service and duty to their country. A large number of local folks turned out for the event to learn about the men who selflessly served to keep America a free nation. Major Alan Taylor, of Springfield, Ohio, brought with him a large display of memorabilia including pilot jackets, photos and other items to remind citizens of the sacrifices made by those Tuskegee Airmen. “Tuskegee” is an Indian word for warrior — a word that aptly describes the men who served under the Stars and Stripes and gave of their very best to their homeland. C.B. Rice, of Dallas, Texas, gave a presentation about the Airmen that gave those attending just a glimpse at their loyalty and devotion. “The general public has only a small inkling of knowledge about the hurdles that the 99th Pursuit Squadron faced,” said Rice. “The word pursuit was quickly replaced with fighter. Even though there have been two movies about them, their accomplishments have barely been covered. More importantly, the families of these special men and women's don't have a full appreciation of what it meant to have been ridiculed by the same men that they were rescuing and protecting.” Rice presented facts about the 99th Fighter Squadron that was part of Operation Corkscrew. “The U.S. Twelfth Air Force and a number of groups from the Ninth Air Force also took part in Operation Corkscrew. The Tuskegee Airmen saw its first action. The first African-American airmen to fly in combat for the U.S. Army Air Corps, the 99th, which had just arrived in North Africa to reinforce the 12th Air Support Command, flew P-40s in Operation Corkscrew,” Rice said. “The 99th and the Allies were so effective that the Island of Pantelleria surrendered, with no troops fighting on the ground, in June 1943. I call that success and so did the military.” In July 1943, the 99th Fighter Squadron earned the first of its three World War II Distinguished Unit Citations for mission over Sicily, Rice said. The unit provided air support for Allied landing operations and for Allied offensives on the island. He also noted that the 324th Fighter Group, to which the 99th Fighter Squadron was attached, also earned the award. “So, in spite of the honors that the 99th had earned, the Commander of the 33rd Fighter Group was determined to get rid of those black pilots, but it was war time and positive facts speak for themselves,” Rice said. “The 99th was detached from the 33rd Fighter Group and attached to the 324th Fighter Group. Then they took part in Operations Shingles. They opened some military eyes on January 27 and 28 in 1944, over Anzio Beachhead. They shot down from 14 to as many as 18 enemy planes, with no losses of their own P-40s.” Rice pointed out that by May 14, 1944, the 99th Fighter Squadron had earned its second Distinguished Unit Citation for missions over Cassino, Italy, an honor it shared with the 324th Fighter Group, to which it was attached. “Here is the bottom line,” said Rice. “The 99th Fighter Squadron earned three Distinguished Unit Citations, more than any other Fight Squadron from the President of the United States of America. The 332nd, with the 99th, brought husbands back home to their wives. They brought fathers back home to their children. “Here we are 80 years later, on a quest to set the record straight and the Congressional Gold Medal should not be taken lightly.” Rice questioned why it is that the family members and general public don't even realize that the Fighting Ninety-Ninth and the 332nd Fighter Group made history and accomplished what no other fighter group accomplished. The opening ceremony included a powerful rendition of the National Anthem by Criceta Perry, a welcome from Ware County Commissioner Leonard Burse Jr. and Waycross Mayor Michael-Angelo James and a stirring prayer from the heart of the Rev. Fer-Rell Malone, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church. Children and young people were given T-shirts to commemorate the day and were provided hamburgers and drinks, following brief flights around the airport. A display of airplanes and other aircraft including the Georgia State Patrol helicopter added to the interest of the day for those attending. The GSP also had its new Camaro patrol car on hand. A flight simulator was set up inside the airport terminal for those interested in trying their hand at flying on the ground.

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