Editorial: Tuskegee Airman served U.S. military and society

John Edward Allen, a Tuskegee Airman who settled in Rio Rancho, died Tuesday at age 84. He received the Congressional Gold Medal for his service in support of the pilots and deserves the gratitude of a nation that, despite significant advances, is still struggling with racial issues.

Like that of the Navajo Code Talkers, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen is one that should be told and remembered.

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African-American pilots and their support personnel who had to fight to be able to fight for their country in air combat during World War II. The military at the time, like other parts of American society, was racially segregated.

From 1941 to 1946, 992 pilots were trained in Tuskegee, Ala., and 150 lost their lives in accidents or combat. The group was credited with 1,378 combat missions and 179 bomber escort missions during which they destroyed more than 100 enemy aircraft in the air and 150 on the ground, as well as nearly 1,000 rail cars, trucks, motor vehicles and water craft.

Allen served 27 years in the military before pursuing a civilian career at Kirtland Air Force Base, where he retired from the Weapons Safety Division in 2000.

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After retirement, Allen helped found the local General Lloyd W. “Fig” Newton Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen and spent time spreading the word about the airmen and showing his memorabilia.

“He’s an icon in the African-American community,” said Harold Bailey, president of the Albuquerque chapter of the NAACP.

And he’s a hero to the greater American community he helped defend as a Tuskegee Airman.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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