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Tuskegee Airmen get inauguration invites

January 16, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Some long-unsung heroes of World War II are about to get recognition on the worldwide stage. The Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black fighter and bomber pilots who helped win the war, have been invited to attend Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C. The Tuskegee Airmen fought Hitler in Europe and discrimination at home.

Ted Lumpkin served as an officer in the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 33rd Fighter Group from 1944 to 1945. Lumpkin, an L.A. native, came homes from war after serving honorably, hoping to see that his country had changed. He was disappointed.

"When we had returned, the country didn't even know that we had been over there," said Lumpkin.

Over the years, America has come to know the contribution of the Tuskegee Airmen, and the walls of official segregation have come down. Still, the idea of an African-American president was something these men couldn't have conceived, until it happened.

"When they announced 'Obama,' tears came running down my eyes," said Tusekegee Airman Oliver Goodall. "And the guy asked me, 'What you crying about?' I said, 'With all the junk I went through, that I can see a black man going to the White House.'"

Thanks to an invitation from Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Tuskegee Airmen are getting coveted tickets to the inauguration of Barack Obama. Their debt of honor is being repaid.

"What we did was pave the way for people to appreciate what we could do," said Tuskegee Airman Raymond Walker. "And that is the important thing that contributed to his election."

Eyewitness News caught up with them Friday in downtown L.A., where they were invited to speak by the Rotary Club of Los Angeles. One of the three won't be able to attend the inauguration for health reasons. The other two fly out this weekend.


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