Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R,C,I-Smithtown) welcomed Tuskegee Airmen Audley Coulthurst, William J. Johnson, Wilford R. DeFour and Herbert C. Thorpe to the Assembly Chamber to be honored by the house. The men often visit schools to share their stories and real accounts of history with students throughout the state.
“It was an honor to have these heroes visit us in the Assembly,” said Fitzpatrick. “They played such a critical role in serving our country as Tuskegee Airmen and turning the tide on discrimination within our military. I am inspired by them, their stories and what they do to help educate children about their role in American history. I applaud and thank them for their past and continued service.”
The Tuskegee Airmen was the 332nd Fighter Group and the 447th Bombardment group in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. The group was comprised of the first-ever African-American military pilots in history as well as navigators, bombardiers, mechanics, instructors, crew chiefs, nurses, cooks and other support staff.
The Tuskegee Airmen, or “Red Wings,” were engaged in 1,578 combat missions, 179 bomber escort missions, and have an impressive record of destroying enemy-aircraft and ground transport. The Tuskegee Airmen received three Distinguished Unit Citations for actions over Sicily and Monte Cassino in Italy and for a bomber mission in Berlin, Germany. Other distinctions issued include a Silver Star, 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars, 744 Air Medals and eight Purple Hearts.
The Tuskegee Airmen endured discrimination both in the military and as civilians, despite their significant and important role in U.S. military strategy. However, their impressive record helped to erode prejudices within the military. In 1948, an Executive Order issued by President Harry S. Truman ended segregation in the U.S. military. The Tuskegee Airmen were highly sought after for their skill and experience in the U.S. Air Force.
To learn more about the legacy of the brave Tuskegee Airmen, please visit: tuskegeeairmen.org.