Several Iowans are among the group of World War II flying heroes who’ve been in Omaha/Council Bluffs all week for the Tuskegee Airmen National Convention. Retired Colonel Paul Adams, of Lincoln, Nebraska, was one of the legendary airmen who flew the red-tailed P-51 fighter plane, and he was South Carolina’s first black pilot. “We had to learn to be the best we could be in flying that airplane because we were under the gun from the beginning,” Adams says. “We had to be better than anybody else, we thought, and we were.” Adams says many obstacles had to be overcome before the black pilots could fly in the 1940s. Adams moved from South Carolina to Nebraska in 1962, teaching in Lincoln’s public schools for many years. He’s 84 now and says his experiences with the Tuskegee Airmen during provided some of the defining moments of his life. Adams says many racial obstacles awaited him in post-war America. “At the end of the war, we started the next war, to fight segregation,” he says. Adams and the group toured a new exhibit at the Strategic Air and Space Museum which honors their accomplishments. The new display at the museum in Ashland, Nebraska, is called “Tuskegee Airmen: African Americans in World II.” The exhibit features artifacts provided by Nebraska’s own Tuskegee Airmen, as well as a collection of photographs, film footage of the airmen and materials from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D-C. SAC Executive Director Scott Hazelrigg says the exhibit highlights the fact these airmen were treated unequally on the ground and given inferior equipment to fly. Hazelrigg says the Tuskegee Airmen “were given the older planes. They were given the models that were outdated and determined to not be ‘good enough’ for the white pilots to fly. Yet at the same time what they found was that because they were excellent pilots, they never lost a single bomber in the air.” Between 1941 and ’46, about a-thousand airmen trained at Alabama’s Tuskegee Army Air Field. About 200 attended this week’s conference.
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