Have you ever noticed these signs on your morning commute on I-15?
This week marks the 5th anniversary of realizing one constituent’s dream to honor one of World War ll’s most elite combat units with the “Tuskegee Airmen Highway” – a dedicated section of Interstate 15 near Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar in San Diego.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American aviators in the US military during World War II. Not only did they conduct successful raids for the US during the war, but they also paved the way for President Harry Truman’s integration of the military.
I recently learned that one of my Legislative Interns, Mustafa Nasheed’s grandfather was a Tuskegee Airman!
In 2011, Retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant and Rancho Bernardo resident Oscar D. Teel approached me with an idea for the recognition of these heroes. Only three other states had similarly recognized the Tuskegee Airmen, so we felt an urgency to ensure that they were honored in our great state.
CMSgt Oscar D. Teel days before retiring (Photo courtesy of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. Chapter San Diego)
In 2012 I introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 90 which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. I wanted to honor Tuskegee Airmen in our great state while they were alive to witness our gratitude. It was important to me that they saw how important their sacrifice is to us. SCR 90 recognized the outstanding achievement of the Tuskegee Airmen and commended the work of the nonprofit Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., which exposes young people across the nation to the world of aviation and science through local and national programs.
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In 2013, it was one of the greatest honors of my legislative career, and my life, to dedicate a three-mile section of Interstate 15 as the “Tuskegee Airmen Highway,” and to meet seven San Diego-area Tuskegee Airmen.
Col. John P. Farnum, Paulette Mello, Airman Alfonso Harris and Wife, Airman George Mitchell, Head Volunteer Peggy Cooper, Airman Nelson Robinson and Wife, Caltrans District Director Laurie Berman and Senator Joel Anderson pose for a photo before the dedication ceremony in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Rochelle Porter/ Peache's Photo Memories)
This past September, I had the humbling experience of attending the memorial for Tuskegee Airman Elbert Hudson, where several speakers commemorated his illustrious record of personal, professional, and civic achievements, as well as the countless lives he has touched and inspired. Beyond military service, Hudson made a significant difference in Los Angeles and in the lives of its minority community, taking to heart his responsibility to serve the public by focusing on the needs of the underserved.
Elbert Hudson (Photo courtesy of Hudson family)
At the memorial service, I met Edward Grice, Executive Director of the Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship Foundation, which honors the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen by providing motivation, access and scholarships to assist financially and academically deserving students in the pursuit of their college education. Edward invited me to recognize the foundation at their annual “Next Gen Now” awards breakfast in honor of their scholarship recipients and excellence among leaders in aviation and academics.
Edward Grice, Executive Director, Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship Foundation and Bruce Dennis, 2017 Scholarship Recipient (Photo Courtesy of TASF)
Here’s what Edward shared with me:
“The Tuskegee Airmen are not just black heroes, they are American heroes, American patriots. They fought gallantly for the ideals of freedom and demonstrated outstanding courage and valor in the face of unbeatable odds. They defied the stereotypes that others placed on them and proved that dedication and commitment are the true characteristics for success and not race. They stand as living testaments to the triumph of good over evil and represent the genuine qualities necessary for true greatness.
“The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen continues through its educational initiative sponsored by the Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship Foundation (TASF), founded to provide support for financially and academically deserving students seeking careers in aviation, aerospace, STEM, and other disciplines.
“The support Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship Foundation (TASF) has received from Senator Joel Anderson has helped to elevate the prominence of these great patriots. The naming of I-15 in their honor places front and center the importance of their legacy and memorializes the sacrifices in perpetuity.” Edward Grice, Executive Director, Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship Foundation
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On January 12 of this year I had another opportunity to celebrate the heroism and accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airman at the USS Midway Museum’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee Sixth Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Luncheon. I was honored to accept the Committee’s Bridge Builder Award on behalf of entire coalition who came together to pass SCR 90 to ensure that the story of the brave Tuskegee Airmen is told to future generations and never forgotten.
The Tuskegee Airmen risked their lives to defend the promise of America even though the America they too often experienced did not live up to that promise. While we recognize that we still have a long way to go, we have come a long way thanks to the efforts of people like Oscar D. Teel. I’m grateful to those individuals and organizations in our community who are working to keep the legacy of the Tuskegee Airman alive.