A Salute to the Tuskegee Airmen

The story of one pioneer in flight that changed the course of history

By Arlene Borenstein
|  Thursday, Feb 18, 2010  |  Updated 9:30 PM EDT
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In celebration of Black History Month, the National Archives held an event honoring the first African-American Military Pilots, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

In celebration of Black History Month, the National Archives held an event honoring the first African-American Military Pilots, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

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The voice of Ronald Reagan as a young soldier blared through a quiet auditorium.

His narration of "Wings for this Man" fell on the ears of people attending a salute to the first African American military pilots, widely known as the Tuskegee Airmen, at the National Archives in NW Washington.

The 11-minute movie, made decades before the civil rights movement, encapsulates a moment in history when African American men soared above the clouds of discrimination through aviation.

"There is no question about it, at ten years old, I knew I was going to be a pilot," said Tuskegee Airman William "Bill" Broadwater.

Back in 1944, Broadwater became a pilot after entering a military flight training school in Tuskegee, Alabama.

"They decided to put us in accelerated program and the actual plane we flew in combat…we flew in training so we would be ready to get that squadron that they locked everybody up in…trying to get up to speed to go to the south pacific," said Broadwater.

Many of the pilot pioneers were fighting off enemies surrounding them in the air, but that certainly wasn't their only battle.

"I tried to get a job as an airline pilot, I was well qualified the plane I flew was just the same as the airline's aircraft, but nobody would hire me," said Broadwater.

Even after the bomber pilot finished his military training, he was forced to take a job as an Air Traffic Controller.

"They sent a Public Relations man to my house to tell me I didn't get the job so I got pretty mad. I was studying aeronautical engineering switched my major to law and told that PR guy, I'm going to get you," Broadwater said laughing.

After retiring from a long-time career with the Federal Aviation Administration the Pilot recalls what helped him get through the hard times as a young pilot hopeful.

"First of all, get confidence that you can do anything you want to do, that is number one. I certainly had that as young kid…flying hot airplanes and as a bomber pilot."

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