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Congress votes to honor Tuskegee Airmen with gold

Tuskegee Medal_Obverse.jpgNearly 1,000 men were honored by an emblematic congressional gold medal on March 29 as the Tuskegee Airmen finally obtained government recognition for their work on the Allied cause during World War II. Collectors are able to buy duplicate bronze versions.

President George W. Bush made the symbolic presentation in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.

On July 19, 1941, the Army Air Corps initiated a program in Alabama to train black Americans as military pilots. Flight training was undertaken by the Division of Aeronautics of Tuskegee Institute, the school founded by Booker T. Washington in 1881. Once an air cadet completed primary training at Tuskegee?s Motor Field, he was sent to nearby Tuskegee Army Air Field for completion of flight training.

Tuskegee Medal_Reverse.jpg One of those cadets, Roscoe Brown Jr., and five other Tuskegee Airmen accepted the symbolic gold medal in the Capitol rotunda on behalf of the group, consisting of about 300 surviving airmen, widows and relatives.

First of the classes of Tuskegee Airmen were trained to be fighter pilots for the 99th Fighter Squadron and sent to combat duty in North Africa. Additional pilots were assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group, which flew combat along with the 99th Squadron from bases in Italy. By the end of World War II, some  992 men had graduated from Tuskegee pilot training, 450 of whom were sent overseas. About 150 pilots lost their lives while in training or in combat.

House action came Feb. 28, 2006, on a 400-0 vote as H.R. 1259 was approved and sent to the Senate, which already had a parallel bill awaiting consideration. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., brought up the bill in the Senate under a unanimous consent agreement on March 27, 2006, sending the measure to President Bush for signature.
Unlike other congressional gold medals that are awarded to individuals, the legislation authorizes the President to award a single gold medal on behalf of the Congress, collectively, to the Tuskegee Airmen in recognition of their unique military record, which inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces, eventually integrating them.

The obverse design of the medal was executed by U.S. Mint sculptor-engraver Phebe Hemphill and shows three Tuskegee Airmen in profile: an officer, a mechanic and a pilot.

The reverse, by Mint sculptor-engraver Don Everhart, features the three types of planes the Tuskegee Airmen flew in World War II, based on a logo design of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. Depicted are the P-40, P-51 and the B-25 aircraft. An inscription on the reverse reads ?Outstanding Combat Record Inspired Revolutionary Reform in the Armed Forces.?

Duplicate bronze medals with three-inch diameter are available from the Mint for $38 each (product No. 903) and 1-1/2-inch miniature bronze replicas are available for $3.75 each (product No. 904). Orders may be placed online at www.usmint.gov, or by telephone, (800) USA-MINT (872-6468). A shipping and handling fee of $4.95 per order is added to each order.  

The underlying bill was introduced March 10, 2005, by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., then ranking minority member of the Ways & Means Committee. Rangel became chairman of the committee in January 2007, at the start of the 110th Congress, when control shifted from Republicans to Democrats.

The highly decorated Tuskegee Airmen flew 15,500 combat sorties, including more than 6,000 missions for the 99th Squadron before July 1944. The outfit collectively received 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 744 Air Medals, eight Purple Hearts and 14 Bronze Stars. 

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