Tuskegee Airmen speak for Salute to Veterans
Utica is saluting America's Veterans this weekend with music, films and several other events to raise money for the Central New York Veterans Outreach Center. Our Andrew Sorensen caught up with some World War II veterans who have a unique view of what it means to serve.
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UTICA, N.Y. -- The lessons James Warren learned during World War II have lasted a lifetime.
The Oneida County Historical Society hosted the well-decorated Lieutenant Colonel and three other Tuskegee Airmen Saturday.
The panel lecture was part of a larger fundraiser called a Salute to America's Veterans, but in their own time, the airmen didn't get much of a salute.
"The powers at be, once they organized this group, they spent the next 13 months trying to destroy it," Warren recalled.
They weren't just heroes of war, having navigated hundreds of successful bombing missions, they were also some of the first in America to stand up for civil rights.
"They moved us to Freeman Field and they tried to deepen the discrimination within our own group, and that's where 101 of us revolted against them," Warren said.
Their revolt was as simple as entering the officer's club.
"After they arrested us, they wrote this regulation, and they called us in and asked us to sign it," he said.
The group disobeyed the direct order to agree to segregation at a heavy cost.
"Disobeying a direct order of a superior officer in a time of war-- the maximum punishment was death," Warren explained.
The group was released before things ever got that far.
Warren went on to serve for 35 more years, two more wars, and 173 more combat missions, but he said he would make the same choice to disobey that order in a second.
"It was unacceptable to accept the discriminatory practices in a war fighting for my country, fighting for freedom and democracy, and I was being refused from being able to participate."
Warren feels that he did help transform the military into a leader in equality. Today, he says he would like see society fall into the same line by supporting returning veterans in their struggles.
For a list of other Salute to America's Veterans events, click here.