400 to 0
New York Sun Editorial
March 2, 2006
That was the vote in the House of Representatives Tuesday night in favor of Rep. Charles Rangel's bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Tuskegee Airmen. In a body known for its partisanship, it was a remarkable expression of national unity and consensus. As Mr. Rangel notes, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld - who Mr. Rangel has urged be impeached - released a letter urging members of Congress to support the initiative. "I don't agree with Secretary Rumsfeld on too many things. But when it comes to the Tuskegee Airmen we stand shoulder to shoulder," Mr. Rangel, a Democrat who represents Harlem, said in a press release.
Today it's right and just to remember the sacrifices and efforts of those men, the Tuskegee Airmen, who served a country that called them niggers. I take nothing from their service.
I have a bad taste in my mouth about one particular Tuskegee Airman, though. I can never hear about this organization without my mind racing back to that day in the early-to-mid-1990's, when I used to be a volunteer docent at the Western Aerospace Museum at the Oakland, California airport. One weekend the museum had an event that honored the Tuskegee Airmen, and I considered it an honor to get to sit and talk to some of those men. One said something so vile to me that I've never forgotten it. I'll paraphrase most of it, but that which is in boldface is his exact quote.
I didn't want to go to Europe. Germany didn't attack us. We shouldn't have been fighting there. Christians fighting Christians over Jews.
I've long since forgotten that man's name. I wonder if he's ever recognized the irony of his own bigotry.
I haven't let him color my view of the Tuskegee Airmen as a whole, of course. But my memory of this man serves as a reminder that they were not demi-gods but were men, with all the imperfections that come with that title.
The Greatest Generation, as Tom Brokaw called the Depression/WWII generation, wasn't perfect. They suffered greatly and fought for a just cause, but they didn't do it with halos above their heads. Sometimes I need to be reminded of that, I guess. But I wish it wasn't this one man who reminds me of it.