NORFOLK (NNS) -- Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic (CNAL) celebrated African American/Black History Month Feb. 19, by hosting an Original Tuskegee Airmen (DOTA).
The CNAL Multicultural Committee organized the event which featured retired Air Force Master Sgt. Ezra M. Hill, Sr. a DOTA. While assigned to crash and salvage duties in 1947, Hill heroically helped remove Col. B.O. Davis, Jr., from his damaged aircraft upon landing at Lockbourne Air Force Base in Ohio. This unselfish act, among others, sealed their friendship for life. Davis was the leader of the famed Tuskegee Airmen and later became the first black three-star general.
On behalf of the Tuskegee Airmen, Hill accepted the Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush March 29, 2007. The Tuskegee Airmen are regarded as an elite group of African American pilots, pioneers in equality and integration of the Armed Forces.
"Everyone can be measured by the same 12 inches; the distance from your head to your heart," said Hill. "It's not the color of your skin that determines your ability; it's the strength of your character."
From 1942 through 1946, 992 airmen graduated from the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Ala.; however, it wasn't until 1948 that President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 which called for the equal treatment and opportunity for all service members. Hill, who enlisted in 1947, recalls facing challenges not only from the military, but from the civilian community as well.
"Fighting the Germans was a Sunday picnic compared to what we faced back home," said Hill. "When we returned from the war, we were treated like our sacrifices meant nothing. I'm here to tell you today that it meant something."
"They created hope for the future as they paved their way through history," said Lt. Cmdr. Rachelle McPherson, CNAL force medical administration officer.
African Americans have served honorably in every major armed conflict since the Revolutionary War. This year, Navy commands are celebrating the theme, "Civil Rights in America," as we pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
"Knowledge is power," said Logistics Specialist 1st Class Jonathan Estrella, the president of the Multicultural Committee, "Knowing what Americans went through and all the barriers that we have overcome is remarkable."
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