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121st ARW celebrates 75th anniversary of desegregation of military

  • Published
  • By Ralph Branson
  • 121st Air Refueling Wing

RICKENBACKER AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, OH -- The 121st Air Refueling Wing, in conjunction with the Village of Lockbourne and the Ohio Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, held a ceremony here Saturday to celebrate the 75th anniversary of desegregation in the United States military and pay tribute to Sgt. Thomas Newton, a documented Tuskegee Airman.

On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, mandating the desegregation of the U.S. military. At that time, Lockbourne Air Force Base, now Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, was home to the all-black 332d Fighter group under the command of Col. Benjamin O. Davis.

According to Newton, assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron, 332d Fighter Group, at Lockbourne AFB from 1946-1949, they took the executive order in stride, "Some of the Airmen said it might be an opportunity for us to further our career if we integrate into the all-white units, and sure enough they did, and they succeeded."

Col. Andy Powers, commander of the 121st Air Refueling Wing, addressing the large crowd of Airmen, community members, and political leaders in attendance, welcomed Newton back to the base after a 74-year absence, thanked him for paving the way, and pointed out something special about the wing's KC-135 Stratotankers, " If you look out on the flight line, you'll see the rudder trim tab painted red in honor of the Tuskegee airman, paying tribute to the lineage and their stellar combat record; no bombers lost to enemy fighters under the protection of the Red-Tails during WWII."

"I always ask myself, what is it that makes America so great? The answer is always the American spirit, the American grit, the American determination and commitment that, as a nation, we will never fail," said Maj. Gen. John Harris, Ohio adjutant general. "After generations of determined Americans who will never accept failure, one of the most representative groups of that American spirit was a group that was often not accepted by America, the renowned Tuskegee Airmen."

Newton said that Col. Benjamin Davis Jr., commander of the 332d Fighter Group who became the first black brigadier general in the USAF, was a hands-on leader who visited each squadron regularly and gave powerful speeches to them often. "When we were gathered together on the parade ground and such, he'd say, 'They put us here to fail, but we will not fail; it is incumbent on all of us to do our job, do your best, and we will not fail," said Newton.

The ceremony included an honorary U.S. flag folding performed by members of the 121st ARW honor guard. The flag, flown at Rickenbacker ANGB for 90 days and retired on the day of Newton's visit, was presented to him on behalf of the men and women of the 121st ARW and the Ohio National Guard for his dedicated service to the nation.

"I wonder how we can measure the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. How do you measure the courage of a president who signed an executive order in a political climate that was not supportive of it?" said Harris. "How do you measure the courage of all the Americans, white and black, it took to put the Tuskegee Airmen on the field of battle, and how do you measure the grit and determination of a man like Thomas Newton?"

Newton said his time at Lockbourne AFB serving with the 332d FG was very enjoyable, "I was around people that looked like me, had a purpose in mind and set goals, and when we talked to each other, we always left with a loving and kind spirit."

As a young man, he always said to himself, "I'm going to be the best that I can be, and that was taught to me at Lockbourne, and even today, I still love Lockbourne AFB."