|Wednesday, Oct 15, 2008|
At the grand opening of Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site this past weekend, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett joined Alabama Governor Bob Riley and some of those whom the new national park site honors â the first African-American aviators, who served with distinction in World War II.
"The Tuskegee Airmen - with their courage, their tenacity, their skills, their dignity - laid the foundations for a better America," said Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett.
"They brought this Nation closer to the ideals of freedom, of equality, and of the rights of all men and women to lives of opportunity," said Scarlett, who cut the ribbon on the opening of the plane hangar, now transformed into a museum.
More than 3,000 people from across the nation - including Tuskegee pilots and their families - attended the ceremony at the siteâs famed Moton Field on Friday afternoon, kicking off a three-day weekend of special interpretive programs at the site as well as throughout the Alabama River region.
After the ribbon was cut, the Tuskegee Airmen and their families were the first to explore the inside of the museum. Museum exhibits feature model planes, parachutes and an interactive cockpit.
Other dignitaries present at the grand opening included Tuskegee University President Dr. Benjamin F. Payton; Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford; Tuskegee Mayor-elect Omar Neal; Lt. Gen. Russell C. Davis, president of Tuskegee Airmen Inc.; Regional Director David Vela, Southeast Region; and Catherine Light, Superintendent of Tuskegee National Historic Site.
According to Tuskegee University, between 1941 and 1945, nearly 1,000 African-American aviators completed the flight course at the university and the U.S. Air Corps base to become the courageous soldiers famous worldwide as the Tuskegee Airmen.
The Tuskegee Airmen went on more than 15,000 combat missions in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa, escorting bomber aircrafts on dangerous missions. Dozens perished in battle or were held as prisoners of war.
Before World War II, African-Americans were denied the right to enter the U.S. Army Air Corps to train as combat pilots.
"No one wanted to see a black man holding a gun, let alone flying a plane. The Tuskegee Airmen grew out of the struggle and the pain of hard won battles. Their legacy is one of triumph," said President Payton. In 1948, President Harry Truman ordered that the country's armed forces be desegregated.
About 75 federal employees were involved in the event, including 65 from 32 different NPS parks and offices and 10 from the Forest Service. They were joined by 150 volunteers and 61 employees from partner organizations.
Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site is administered by the National Park Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior. For more information, please see www.nps.gov/tuai .
The National Park Service also administers sites associated with Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee University, and George Washington Carver, a teacher there. For more information, see www.nps.gov/tuin .