RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas —
Next week's 39th annual Tuskegee Airmen Inc. National Convention in San Antonio will be a homecoming for some of the African-American fighter pilots who overcame racial prejudice and stereotypes to distinguish themselves during World War II.
One squadron at Randolph - the 99th Flying Training Squadron - has its roots in the 99th Fighter Squadron - one of the four Tuskegee Airman squadrons that were part of the 332nd Fighter Group.
"It's a great thing for us to continue that heritage," said Lt. Col. Jay Fisher, 99th FTS commander. "They had to overcome challenges beyond being a pilot - all the prejudice they had to endure. They rose from adversity. We're very proud of being part of that tradition."
The convention will begin Wednesday and conclude July 31 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. The Lonely Eagles Ceremony will pay tribute to members of the Tuskegee Experiment's air, ground and operations crews who have died since the 2009 convention in Las Vegas, Nev. Other highlights include the Gen. B.O. Davis Jr. Leadership Institute training sessions, Military and Youth Day luncheons, business sessions and the grand gala, when the Tuskegee Airmen Awards are presented.
Randolph will participate in Youth Day July 31, when some 70 boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18 will take a tour of the 99th FTS and see a static display of the base's trainer jets and other aircraft, including an F-16 from Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. Lackland AFB will also take part in Youth Day.
"The students will be exposed to all the achievements of the Tuskegee Airmen during their tour of the squadron; they'll have a chance to look at all the photos and ask questions," Colonel Fisher said. "We'll talk about all the contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen that have carried forward to today."
President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the creation of the all-black flight-training program, which was based at Tuskegee Institute and Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. Its Airmen took part in more than 15,500 sorties and more than 1,500 missions in Europe and North Africa. Thousands of others contributed to the program's success.
"The Tuskegee Airmen were not just pilots," Colonel Fisher said. "There were 14,000 people associated with the organization."
Though the ranks of the original Tuskegee Airmen are dwindling, TAI, which was founded in Detroit in 1972, continues their tradition. A nonprofit organization with 53 chapters nationwide, TAI honors the accomplishments and perpetuates the history of the aircrews, ground crews and operations support teams who were part of the Tuskegee program.
It also introduces young people to the world of aviation and science through local and national programs and provides scholarships and awards to individuals, groups and corporations whose deeds lend support to TAI's goals.