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'Red Tails' movie honors Tuskegee Airmen

January 20, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
For a group of Tuskegee Airmen, now in their 90s, the premiere of "Red Tails" is much more than a movie screening. It is their memories from 65 years ago, finally on the big screen.

"It was well done, well over due and it got the emotions across that I think should have been gotten across 65 years ago," said former Tuskegee Airman Louis D. Hill.

"Red Tails" is the story of the Tuskegee Airmen starring Terrance Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Hollywood studios were initially hesitant about its box office appeal. Executive producer George Lucas had to spend $58 million of his own money to get it made.

The real life Tuskegee Airmen trained in Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama. They were a segregated unit of pilots, the first ever to fly for the United States military.

The 992 graduates flew thousands of missions, shooting down hundreds of enemy aircraft in World War II. But the survivors said that didn't matter much back home.

"We were not in the history books, we were not in the school books, it was really to the point that it was a secret," said former Tuskegee Airman Ted Lunpkin.

For some of the airmen, the movie was more than a tribute to the contributions, but something that evoked serious emotions.

"When I think of it, even today, it brings tears. I'd rather not even talk about it. It was that bad," said former Tuskegee Airman Jerry T. Hodges.

It wasn't until 2007 that they finally received a Congressional Gold Medal.

Just this week, the Tuskegee Airmen were cheered during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade in Los Angeles.

Big crowds were lining up for the film in Baldwin Hills on Friday, and a new generation will learn the story almost erased from the history books.

"My granddaughter has a lot more respect for me now, she said she didn't know that I was who I was," said Hodges.