JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Airmen, Sailors, retirees and local community members witnessed history Feb. 20, 2015, at Joint Base Charleston, S.C.
Two men wearing suits with faces worn by time walked out onto the stage and sat side-by-side one another in classic red leather chairs.
As the crowd settled into their seats the two men sat quietly looking out among the crowd of young faces they would be speaking with shortly.
"It's my honor and pleasure to introduce these two gentlemen who have been instrumental in paving the way for African Americans serving in the military," said Ann McGill, a WCSC Live 5 News anchor. "Today we will hear from both retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Daniel James III, second generation Tuskegee Airmen, and retired Air Force Lt. Col. Enoch Woodhouse, an original Tuskegee Airmen during our discussion panel.
The two Tuskegee Airmen passed the microphone back and forth effortlessly telling their stories of struggle and triumph while serving in the military.
"VV was a symbol all of us Tuskegee Airmen carried," said Woodhouse. "It stood for Victory over the Nazis and Victory at home against racism."
Tuskegee Airmen served during a time when the United States was at war; not only against other countries, but also at war against itself for racial equality.
When the war had ended and troops were heading through France, a Victory Parade to honor the men's courage and sacrifice while defeating the Nazis Army was held.
"We weren't even allowed to march in the parade celebrating the victory over the Nazis, even though we played a key role in the war, it was once again our skin color that people saw, not our sacrifices," said Woodhouse.
Woodhouse brought up more stories of how media documenting the war would make sure to not release any video or photos with African Americans in uniform.
"You'll never see a black face on screen during the D-Day landing, but we were there," said Woodhouse. "We were there bringing oil, ammunition, supplies and even removing dead troops from the battlefield."
James, the son of retired Air Force Gen. Chappy James, a documented original Tuskegee Airman, took the microphone and discussed the role his father played in his life and what he learned from him.
"I remember when I was young, my father was developing his speaking skills," said James. "He would take me to all of his speeches and I would do homework before and after, but I always listened to him speak. He was an amazing public speaker."
James followed in his father's footsteps and commissioned in the Air Force and later became a three-star general.
"I didn't understand why he put so much emphasis on developing his public speaking, but one day he sat me down and told me," said James. "He said he was not only speaking for himself, but for all African American commanders and he wanted to show them how well-spoken he was and show what position he held, so people would believe more in African Americans."
James learned several lessons and values from his father while growing up.
"He always held his family to the highest standards, pushing us to do our absolute best," said James. "He expected excellence in all we did, but if we told him we gave it our all he would accept that."
James excelled in school and sports while growing up.
"I remember being on the field getting ready for a game and then seeing my dad in the crowd and I became very nervous," said James. "He couldn't come to all my games, but he came as often as he could. I later found out why he put so much effort into seeing me play. His father never once saw him play a single game, because he was always working and there were several kids to take care of.
James also discussed how Col. Jeffrey DeVore, Joint Base Charleston base commander, was his exec at one time and shared a few stories with the audience.
"When we arrived at bases or events, Maj. DeVore at the time, would walk to the trunk and get the luggage, and by the time he turned around I was gone," James jokingly said. "I did this to him more than once to say the least. Maj. DeVore was the master of anticipating my next move [and] always keeping me on track and looking good, which is what great execs do."
After James and Woodhound spoke about their experiences, the floor was opened to Airmen, Sailors, retirees and civilians to ask questions. The questions ranged from how they got through the rough times of being a Tuskegee Airman and what do they believe the future will look like for the Air Force and military in general.
"There is always new advanced technology coming out all the time, so I see the Air Force growing and continuing to lead the world in flight and space endeavors," said Woodhouse.
Once the discussion panel was over, members of the crowed were able to come on stage and get a photo with the two Tuskegee Airmen and have any books, posters or other historical items signed.
The Tuskegee Airmen panel was an event held in celebration of African American Heritage Month. The last event in honor of African American Heritage Month will be the African American Icon Exhibit, which will be held at the Air Base Chapel Annex Feb. 27, 2015 from 2 to 3:30 p.m.