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House approves Tuskegee medal

Tusk0321a.jpgHouse action on a rare congressional gold medal, to be awarded to the Tuskegee Airmen, was approved Feb. 28 on a 400-0 unanimous vote. H.R. 1259 was then sent to the Senate, which already had a parallel bill awaiting consideration.

The bill 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. The gold medal would be given to the Smithsonian for display and study; bronze duplicates would be available for sale to collectors.

H.R. 1259 was introduced March 10, 2005, by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. The legislation had 308 co-sponsors.

Chair of the House coinage subcommittee, Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, said that, ?Shortly after World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen were stationed at Lockbourne AAB (Army Aircorp Base) just outside my home city of Columbus, Ohio. Under the leadership of Benjamin Davis, the Tuskegee Airmen?s professionalism and courage helped liberalize institutionalized racism within the military, and the airmen themselves became icons for social change in central Ohio and across America. I am humbled to be associated with the Tuskegee Airmen by helping to honor their history today.?

The Tuskegee Airmen formed after the creation of an all-black flight-training program was ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941. The Tuskegee Airmen paved the way to full racial integration in the Armed Forces.

House Financial Services committee Chairman Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, declared that ?The congressional gold medal is the highest honor that Congress bestows. It has been awarded to military heroes, including Gen. George Washington, and to heroes of the fight against prejudice. It is only fitting ? and long overdue ? that we recognize the Tuskegee Airmen in this manner.?
In an emotional speech on the floor of the House, Rangel told the story of how the Tuskegee Airmen were founded in 1941.

?The NAACP fought and won the opportunity for this group of young people to be trained, even though the Army had already ruled that there could not be black airmen, or colored airmen or Negro airmen. So they won the right to put their lives on the line and share in the sacrifice to which this great Republic was attached.?

?Even though they were denied all types of recognition during the time that they served, and even though they were subjected to all types of scourges by other people, they still continued to fight. There were 450 Tuskegee Airmen that served with the 99th Fighter Squadron and were able to then join with the 332nd Fighter Group in the 15th Air Force.?

This decorated unit flew 15,500 combat sorties, including more than 6,000 missions for the 99th Squadron before July 1944. Sixty-six pilots lost their lives and were killed in action. Thirty-two were downed or became prisoners of war.

Among the outfit, they received a total of 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 744 Air Medals, eight Purple Hearts and 14 Bronze Stars for their actions during combat.

Last year, the rules changed on how congressional gold medals could be authorized. Under special procedures set up for coins and medal issues, ?It shall not be in order for the Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade, and Technology to hold a hearing on any commemorative medal or commemorative coin legislation unless the legislation is cosponsored by at least two-thirds of the members of the House.?

This has been a local requirement for some time to act as a gatekeeper ? by requiring 290 members of the House to stand tall.

Requirements for congressional gold medals now require that ?(i) the recipient shall be a natural person; (ii) the recipient shall have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient?s field long after the achievement; (iii) the recipient shall not have received a medal previously for the same or substantially the same achievement; (iv) the recipient shall be living or, if deceased, shall have been deceased for not less than 5 years and not more than 25 years; (v) the achievements were performed in the recipient?s field of endeavor, and represent either a lifetime of continuous superior achievements, or a single achievement so significant that the recipient is recognized and acclaimed by others in the same field, as evidenced by the recipient having received the highest honors in the field.?

The congressional gold medal has been awarded ever since former President George Washington received the first one in 1776. About 300 of them have been awarded in the intervening years to a variety of significant people and in honor of many different events.

Before the congressional gold medal can be awarded, approval by the Senate and signature by the President is required. 

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