"I think for all of us to still be alive and experience this country recognize the Tuskegee Airmen as a group and what they did for the country has been something I've been waiting for," said Leroy Eley Sr., one of the airmen recognized. "The United States itself just recognized us as a group on March 29 of this year. I'm glad that I'm alive to see that after 60 years."
During World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen were the nation's first black military airmen in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
From 1942 to 1946, the men trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Ala., to become members of the flying squadrons or the support ground unit. In their 200 combat missions, the airmen didn't lose a single bomber.
"I feel good knowing that we, the Tuskegee Airmen as a group, we succeeded in doing what the war department said we couldn't do," said Hiram Little, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen. "The war department were certain that we were going to be a failure. We proved them wrong."
James McCormick, the membership officer for the chapter that sponsored the banquet, estimated that there are about 80 Tuskegee Airmen still alive.
Mr. Little said many left the military after the war, but the experiences they had and the lessons they learned will never be forgotten.
"I liked the service. I liked everything about it. I faced a lot of hard times in the military, but I still think about the good times I had," Mr. Little said.
Mr. Eley said he hopes younger generations will learn from the perseverance that the Airmen had.
"The main thing I learned is that life is hard and to never give up," he said. "Things in life will change, but no matter what you can't give up. You can never, never, never give up."
Reach Nikasha Dicks at (706) 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.