Former Tuskegee Airmen Shares Stories, Challenges (VIDEO)

By Emily Dwire - 21Alive

April 26, 2014 Updated Apr 26, 2014 at 11:59 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (21Alive) -- One of the original Tuskegee Airmen made a stop in town Saturday to share some stories of his time in the war and the challenges he and the others faced. The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of the first black fighter pilots to serve our country in World War II.

Leslie Edwards was one of those men. Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, he joined the military in 1942. He was assigned to "Engine Mechanic's School" in Texas, and eventually worked his way up to become a Staff Sergeant and Flight Chief for a Tuskegee unit. In fact, his unit had one of the best safety records in the military. His planes were always "mission ready."

But despite the Tuskegee Airmen’s hard and efficient work...our military was racially segregated. The men were subjected to racial discrimination in the army and outside as well.

But despite segregation and discrimination, this extraordinary group of men kept their heads held high and knew they could achieve at their highest level if given the opportunity.

Edwards says those men give kids hope today that anything is possible, as long as the opportunity is there.

“"I'm trying to make all the people know that what they have tried to deny people was the knowledge of what the Tuskegee Airmen really did for this nation. They made the nation know that denying opportunities for people to do what they can was not the best thing for the military, it was not the best thing for this nation.”

The Tuskegee Airmen also had backing from some of our country’s presidents.

Former President Harry Truman, realizing the airmen’s talent and wanting to give opportunities to more black man, bypassed Congress and instead signed an executive order ending segregation in the military. And when former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was for segregation, took office, he kept that order in place.

Edwards also showed a short preview of the documentary “Double Victory,” which is about the challenges the airmen faced.

Edwards currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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