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Tuskegee Airmen to speak at local church

COVINGTON - The heroics of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II are legendary. It's the mission of the Atlanta Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen to keep that legend alive.

In honor of Black History Month, members will tell their personal stories and share the history of the Airmen at Good Hope Baptist Church, located at 1162 Ga. Highway 162 S.

"Black History Celebration with the Tuskegee Airmen" will take place from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Members of the Atlanta Chapter will present the history of the Airmen, along with their personal experiences prior to and during World War II, according to Jacquelyn McKenzie, pastor's aide at Good Hope.

Following the viewing of a short DVD, they will answer questions from the crowd.

In 1941, one day after the NAACP filed suit on behalf of Howard University student Yancy Williams and others in Federal Court to force the Department of Defense to accept black pilot trainees, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the creation of an all black flight training program at Tuskegee Institute.

Training of the Tuskegee Airmen was an experiment established to prove that black pilots were incapable of operating expensive and complex combat aircraft, according to the Atlanta Chapter's Web site.

By 1943, the first contingent of black airmen was sent to North Africa, Sicily and Europe.

They were the first squadron to sink a naval destroyer with only machine guns and the first to shoot down a German jet during World War II.

Nearly 1,000 black pilots received their wings and became commissioned officers at Tuskegee. The first 450 graduates were deployed to North Africa and the European Theatre of Operations, flying combat missions, with the last class finishing in June 1946.

The Tuskegee Airmen were credited with 261 aircraft destroyed, 148 aircraft damaged and 1,578 missions over North Africa, Italy and Europe. They destroyed or damaged more than 940 units of enemy ground transportation and conducted more than 200 bomber escort missions, never losing a bomber to enemy fighters.

The Tuskegee Airmen were awarded three Presidential Unit Citations, 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses and Legions of Merit, along with the Red Star of Yugoslavia, nine Purple Hearts, 14 Bronze Stars and more than 700 Air Medals and clusters.

Sixty-six of the black aviators died in combat, while another 33 were shot down and captured as prisoners of war.

The Atlanta Chapter was incorporated in Atlanta in August 1972 as an education and community service organization dedicated to maintaining the traditions of the Tuskegee Airmen and preserving the legacy of the first generation of black military aviators.

Members provide presentations to approximately 30 schools each year and have reached more than 250,000 students in the metro Atlanta area. Tuskegee Airmen also perform volunteer community service, supporting programs for youth and older adults.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.