MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif., -- In 1941, the nation’s first African-American military aviators began their journey in Tuskegee, Ala. More than 70 years later, Marines, sailors, veterans, and other supporters gathered at the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing headquarters building to recognize the contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen Feb. 22.
A morning colors ceremony punctuated by a live performance by the 3rd MAW Band began the day-long celebration of the Tuskegee Airmen’s efforts.
“It’s important to have these ceremonies to reflect back on our history and what people have done in the past to bring about positive change and to honor those who have come before us,” said Sgt. Rousseau Saintilfort, reviewing officer for the morning colors ceremony and New York native. “It gives great perspective on the future.”
Like many other black service members, Saintilfort said he appreciates the Tuskegee Airmen, whose selfless service and perseverance paved the way for black military members.
“They put the hopes and dreams of the African-American people on their shoulders,” he said. “I think the biggest reason they were able to succeed was the fact that they knew they weren’t just doing it for themselves; they were doing it for an entire people.”
While battling bigotry on the home front, Saintilfort notes the Tuskegee Airmen still stood tall and served with distinction - a quality he feels is shared by Marines.
“Dealing with what they felt back at home, with the racism and people doubting their abilities, they were basically fighting two wars and they overcame that and succeeded,” he said. “As Marines, we adapt and overcome, and they did it under an enormous amount of pressure.”
During the colors ceremony, two black Marines recited a brief narrative in the words of the first military aviators while wearing replicas of their historical uniform.
“I thought it was great,” said retired Air Force Master Sgt. Nelson B. Robinson, a Tuskegee Airman who served 22 years. “It was nostalgic to me to think about being back in that outfit and the fact that we were being honored brought my attention to that.”
The morning colors ceremony, while a very distinct honor, was only the beginning of the rest of the day’s honors. U.S. Sen. Joel Anderson, California’s 36th District introduced another honor at a separate ceremony. A three-mile stretch of California’s Interstate 15 is now known as the Tuskegee Airmen highway.
“The signs will serve as an everyday reminder of what these brave men did for our country,” said Anderson. “I think that’s going to be [their] legacy: more than what [they] did in battle, but focusing our younger generations on understanding how far our country has come and how far it needs to go.”
After unveiling the new highway sign, two Beechcraft T-34 Mentors and a World War II-era P-51 Mustang flew overhead as a final salute to the Tuskegee Airmen.
“I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this recognition of our Black History Month and I appreciate being offered the invitation to come out and be with you all,” said Robinson. “It’s rewarding to see the changes that have taken place; it’s great to see things as they are today and of course, that’s the way they should be.”