Members of the historically-acclaimed 332nd Fighter Group were presented awards for sharp shooting in 1949 during the 38th Annual Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. National Convention at Palace Station Hotel, Aug. 6-9.
The honoring ceremony marked the 60th anniversary of the original "Top Guns" who claimed victory in the National Fighter Gunnery Competition at the then-Las Vegas Air Force Base, Nev., now Nellis Air Force Base.
Holding replicas of the trophies they received decades ago, P-47 Thunderbolt Pilot 1st Lt. James Harvey III, and Crew Chief Master Sgt. Buford Johnson, each from the 99th Fighter Squadron, stood bright-eyed before hundreds of spectators who cheered the veterans for their diligence in the face of the era's stinging racism.
National Tuskegee Airman Inc., President Russell Davis, a retired lieutenant general and former National Guard Bureau chief, presented the trophies, Nicole Wright presented a proclamation on behalf Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Robert Sharp presented the award on behalf of Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Former U.S. Marine Corps AH-1W SuperCobra helicopter pilot Vernice Armour — America's first black female combat aviator - read a proclamation on behalf of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B. Goodman, officially marking this Tuskegee Airmen Week in the desert city.
"It's a big team effort anytime you see folks in combat," Mr. Davis said. "It's not just about pilots — somebody needs to refuel the planes and fly the bombs over — and it's not just Air Force, today's fight is a joint fight."
Mr. Harvey, now a retired lieutenant colonel, was a 1944 Tuskegee Army Air Field Flying School graduate. He spoke candidly of his humble upbringing and tenacity during a difficult time for people of color.
"We were a poor but proud family," the Montclair, N.J., native said. "I always figured that I could do anything if given a chance ... Attitude is the key in life."
Born in Longview, Texas, Sgt. Johnson advanced to the rank of corporal within three years before retiring as a chief master sergeant.
In compliance with an Air Force Chief of Staff directive sent out to operational fighter groups across the continental U.S., the 1949 competition determined the best fighter group and individual pilots. When the scores were in, the Tuskegee Airmen team — Capt. Alva Temple, Lt. Harry Stewart, Lt. Halbert Alexander and Lt. Harvey - were atop the leader board and Lt. Temple took second place in the top individual honors category.
TAI is non-profit organization dedicated to honoring the accomplishments of African Americans who participated in aircrew, groundcrew and operations support in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
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