MIRAMAR (CNS) - The U.S. military's first black pilots were honored Friday at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, and a three-mile stretch of Interstate 15 near the base was renamed as the "Tuskegee Airmen Highway."
Renaming the highway from Miramar to Mercy roads honors the men "who faithfully served America while fighting the enemy in World War II and segregation at home," according to a MCAS Miramar statement.
Seven San Diego-area Tuskegee Airmen -- Alfonso Harris, George T. Mitchell, Nelson Robinson, Buford Johnson, Louis Hill, Ted Lumpkin and Claude Rowe -- attended the highway sign unveiling, officials said.
"We were not just fighting for our country, we were fighting for our dreams and we were willing to give our lives for it. Our country has come a long way, and we are honored and grateful to receive this recognition," Rowe said following the passage of legislation by Sen. Joel Anderson, R-San Diego, that made the highway dedication possible.
Funding for new signage was raised by the Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Tuskegee Airmen Chapter in San Diego, which successfully lobbied the Legislature to approve the freeway renaming.
Sixty-six Tuskegee Airmen were killed in combat and another 33 were shot down and held as prisoners of war. Fourteen of them received the Bronze Star. In 2007, the Tuskegee Airmen were collectively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.
"The Tuskegee Airmen not only helped defeat fascism overseas, but just as importantly, they broke down the barriers of racism and segregation here in America, which led to the complete racial integration of the military," Anderson said. His resolution also recognized the nonprofit Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. which aims to introduce youths to aviation.
In addition to unveiling new signage, three T- 34 aircraft and a World War II-era P-51 Mustang, the type the Tuskegee Airmen flew in combat, conducted a flyover.
Prior to the highway dedication, the Tuskegee Airmen were honored during an 8 a.m. morning colors ceremony. Robinson, a retired Air Force master sergeant, was in attendance, according to 3rd MAW public affairs.
Robinson was one of nearly 1,000 black aviators trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Ala., from 1941 to 1946. About 450 of them fought in World War II, flying 1,578 missions and destroying 261 enemy aircraft.