Friday, November 10, 2000

Monument at former base to honor Tuskegee Airmen

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — For the Tuskegee Airmen, a monument being dedicated Saturday at the site where the all-black unit was based after World War II is more than just a Veterans Day honor.

        The ceremony in front of the old headquarters building of Lockbourne Air Force Base, now part of the cargo terminal at Rickenbacker International Airport, is overdue public recognition.

        “The local black community knew about us, but when I give talks for Black History Month or other things, I'm always finding people who were alive at the time and say they had no idea we had been here,” said Harold Sawyer, who served with the airmen from 1942 to 1946.

        Most publications of the period paid little attention to blacks, and the races did not mix much in public places such as restaurants and theaters.

        The Tuskegee Airmen were based in central Ohio from 1946 to 1949, when the group disbanded after President Truman ordered integration of the military.

        Robert Peeples of Columbus, president of the Ohio chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., an organization of former members of the unit, said there had been talk for years about a monument at the former base.

        “After we heard a group make a presentation about redoing the former control tower, we just decided "Why someone else? That's not the spirit of the airmen. Let's do it ourselves,'” he said. “So we raised $2,000 by July and went forward with plans to dedicate the monument on Veterans Day.”

        Chapter spokeswoman Lesley Hollen said the monument features the Tuskegee Airmen logo on a black granite stone. The logo shows three planes against a background of clouds and a star inside a circle.

        Mr. Peeples said the only other indication at the former base that the airmen spent time there is a short street known as Tuskegee Airmen Road.

        The unit, officially known as the 332nd Fighter Group, took its name from Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where it trained. It was formed in 1939 in response to pleas from black groups.

        “What was remarkable about Lockbourne was that it was the only all-black Air Force base that ever existed,” said Mr. Peeples, who joined the military in 1947 and was an aircraft maintenance worker.


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