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Congressman Chris Collins

Representing the 27th District of New York

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Congressman Collins Presents Tuskegee Airmen with the Congressional Gold Medal

Nov 11, 2016
Press Release

Congressman Chris Collins today released the following statement recognizing five Tuskegee Airmen with the Congressional Gold Medal at the National Warplane Museum, located in Geneseo, NY. Three of the Congressional Gold Medals were presented posthumously to the Airmen’s next of kin. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award bestowed by the United States Congress. The medals were presented about 70 years after the Airmen completed their historic World War II mission.

“At a time in our history where African-Americans faced tremendous prejudice, the Tuskegee Airmen remained true to their convictions and answered the call of duty, serving our nation honorably,” said Congressman Collins. “These brave men undoubtedly laid the foundation for change, so future generations can serve in our armed forces, no matter their race or ethnicity. It was a true honor to join these men and their families on Veterans Day to recognize their service and the service of all of our veterans.”

“We are excited to be a part of this significant event, especially on Veterans Day,” said Austin Wadsworth, President of the National Warplane Museum. “Honoring these Tuskegee Airmen today is just one of the ways we are able to continue our mission—to recognize all United States military personnel for their selfless service and sacrifice. I’d also like to thank Congressman Collins for joining us today to present these well-deserved medals to the Airmen and their families.”

“I am pleased that Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen who have not yet received their replica medals are able to have them officially conferred today,” said Michael Joseph, Historian of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.

“Tuskegee Airmen” refers to the men and women who were involved in the “Tuskegee Experience.” The Tuskegee Experience was a program established by the United States Army Air Corps in an effort to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft during World War II. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who helped ensure the planes remained in the air. The Tuskegee Airmen recognized during the Veterans Day ceremony are as followed:

Wallace C. Higgins

Wallace C. Higgins enlisted in the United States Army on December 10, 1943. Initially reporting to Ft. Dix, NJ, he was sent to Biloxi, Mississippi for basic training and aptitude testing. After Wallace completed his testing, he was selected to be a part of the Tuskegee Airmen experiment in Alabama. He participated in Pre-Flight training at the Tuskegee Institute, and then completed his Primary Flight training, which included solo-runs in the P-17 Stearman. Wallace spent eleven months at the Tuskegee Institute, until a downturn in the war in Europe resulted in less pilot training at Tuskegee. In 2015, Wallace was recognized by Congressman Reed and was presented the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his service. When Wallace heard that his fellow Airmen were identified, he wanted to attend this ceremony to participate in the Veterans Day ceremony.

Herbert Thorpe

Herbert Thorpe, a Brooklyn native, enlisted in the United States Army Reserves in October 1942. He underwent training at the Tuskegee Army Air Field Flight School at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. After Herbert completed training at gunnery school and bombardier/navigator school, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. Herbert then returned to Tuskegee to begin flight training. Herbert earned B-25 Pilot’s Wings in October 1945 at Tuskegee, where he was one of the heralded “Tuskegee Airmen,” the first black pilots in United States history.

Richard Thorpe (Deceased)

Richard Thorpe, after successfully completing pilot training, was assigned as a replacement pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen and was instructed to report to Italy for combat. During one of the orientation flights, Richard unexpectedly lost control of his aircraft, and passed away in 1945. Richard’s brother, Herbert, also served as a Tuskegee Airmen and was presented the award on his late brother’s behalf.

Robert M. Johnson (Deceased)

Robert M. Johnson was born February 3, 1925 in Pittsburgh, PA, where he attended Morehead grade school and 5th Avenue High School. Robert enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps on July 23, 1943. After his enlistment, he received both his officer and flight training in Tuskegee, Alabama, as part of the Tuskegee Project. Robert Johnson was killed in action on December 5, 1944.

Leland H. Pennington (Deceased)

On April 21, 1945, the City of Rochester, NY lost a war hero. Flight Officer Leland H. Perrington, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen’s 301st Fighter Squadron, was lost while returning to base from combat. Pennington’s last action during World War II was a successful bomber escort mission over the Attnang-Puchheim Marshalling Yard in Austria. During this mission, Pennington was flying a P-51 B-10 Mustang named “Lucy Gal.”

The Veterans Day ceremony took place at the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo. Members of the Veterans of Foreign War Post 5005 and the Patriot Guard Riders of Western New York led the Presentation of Colors. Students from Honeoye Falls-Lima Select Choir led the ceremony in the National Anthem. A representative from the office of Congressman Tom Reed (NY-23) shared remarks on his behalf and presented Mr. Wallace Higgins with a Congressional Certificate of Commendation and an American flag that was flown over the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

After Congressman Collins recognized the Tuskegee Airmen listed above, two certificates were presented to Mr. Charles Price and Dr. David Anderson in recognition of their dedication to the Tuskegee Airmen Education Program at the National Warplane Museum. of their dedication to the Tuskegee Airmen Education Program at the National Warplane Museum.

For more information on the National Warplane Museum, please visit its website. For more information on the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, please visit the organization’s website.