Tuskegee, Al. (WRBL) – In 1941 the US Military launched an experiment that allowed African Americans to become Pilots and support members for the first time. They were officially called the 99th Fighter Squadron. They were also known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Their legacy still endures to this day, and we can see their direct effect on our modern military.

“Because of the actions of the Tuskegee Airmen and other African American combat units during the war. President Truman in 1948 signed Executive Order 9981, which started the desegregation of the armed forces of the United States of America,” said Frank Tolan, Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site Park Ranger.

This was the first time African Americans contributed to combat in this capacity. It was a shock to the system when the rest of the military discovered who the Tuskegee Airmen were.

“It was quite shocking when other units discovered the Tuskegee Airmen. And this this is a black unit. These are Negro pilots. You know, these are the guys saving us out there? They were able to prove through their hard work that they belonged. And it wasn’t just the pilots, of course. It was all the support staff. People, of course, always get the glory right. But if you don’t have a support staff, that plane ain’t going nowhere,” said Tolan.

The success of the 99th Fighter Squadron depended on more than just the fighter pilots.

“One of the displays we have over in Hanger 2 is ‘More Than Just The Pilots.’ And it has displays about some of the other jobs that were done. You know, the all the people that put the ammunition in the planes. Mechanics, of course. We had female mechanics here during the war. We had female radio operators. It was a it was a worldwide struggle. And you need as many hands on deck as you as you could get pretty much,” said Tolan.

The Tuskegee Airmen pioneered a dramatic change in our nation’s military. For the Park Rangers at the Tuskegee Airmen Historic Site there’s a pride in keeping the memory and legacy of the airmen alive.

“A lot of pride. Oh, it’s a great job to be able to keep this story alive and to keep the legacy of these men and women alive,” said Nolan.

The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site is open Wednesday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Central Standard Time. For more information click here for their website.