Congress Pays High Honors to Tuskeegee Airmen

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The surviving Tuskeegee Airmen were honored today in the United States Capitol, with the highest civilian honor the nation can bestow: the Congressional Gold Medal. We listen to excerpts from the day's events.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

And today at the Capitol, a high honor for a group of African-American World War II veterans.

Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Congressional Gold Medal recipients, the Tuskegee Airmen.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SIEGEL: Six decades after returning home from combat in World War II to a segregated country, the Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor. At the Capitol, some 300 Airmen widows and relatives were on hand for the ceremony. The Airmen made up America's first all-black combat flying unit. Today's event was a celebration of their service and an apology on behalf of the nation.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): It is the ultimate act of patriotism to love your country even when that love is not reciprocated.

(Soundbite of applause)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: And I would like to offer a gesture to help atone for all the unreturned salutes and unforgivable indignities. And so on behalf - on behalf of the office I hold and a country that honors you, I salute you for the service to the United States of America.

(Soundbite of applause)

Representative CHARLES RANGEL (Democrat, New York): But remember where you're sitting today, slaves built this building. So there's mountains for us to climb, there's things for us to do. God bless you. God bless America. Sorry it took so long.

SIEGEL: That's Congressman Charles Rangel of New York, before him President Bush and Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, all speaking today at the U.S. Capitol. Dr. Roscoe Brown was one of the Tuskegee Airmen who attended today's event. Here he is accepting the Congressional Gold Medal.

Mr. ROSCOE BROWN (Tuskegee Airman; Congressional Gold Medal Recipient): Because of our great record and our persistence, we inspired revolutionary reform in the armed forces which led to integration in the armed forces in 1948, and as the president said, provided a symbol for America that all people can contribute to this country and be treated fairly. And Mr. President, we are so proud today and I believe America is proud today. Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SIEGEL: Dr. Roscoe Brown. He and other surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the nation's highest civilian honor today at the U.S. Capitol.

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