Congress, Bush Honor Tuskegee Airmen

Surviving members of America's first all-black combat flying unit, the Tuskegee Airmen, are awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. The ceremony includes thanks from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a salute from President Bush.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The nation's first black military airmen received an honor here in Washington yesterday.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, New York): To the Tuskegee Airmen and their wives and their spouses, welcome to the capital of the United States for a well deserved and an overdue honor.

INSKEEP: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met the surviving airmen more than 60 years after their service. They were recruited into the armed forces over the objections of top generals in World War II. President Franklin Roosevelt insisted, though they remained a segregated unit and could not even train with white pilots.

The African-American pilots flew, fought, we're shot down and sometimes captured or killed in Europe and North Africa and then they returned to the segregated country they had defended. Yesterday, the airmen received a congressional gold medal and a salute from President Bush.

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 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)

INSKEEP: Decades after their service, the Tuskegee airmen stood and saluted back.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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