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CJCS, Team Shaw, Sumter community honor Tuskegee Airmen in historic P-51 dedication

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kelsey Owen
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The city of Sumter hosted a ceremony to dedicate a P-51 Mustang replica static display to the Tuskegee Airmen at Veterans Park on Feb. 9.

The display was installed in July 2023, and is the only full-scale P-51 Mustang replica, on permanent public display, in the United States outside of the National Historic Site in Tuskegee, Alabama.

“We stand here today in honor of not only the heroic actions of the Tuskegee Airmen, but of the historic precedent they set in defiance of a world that would not see their worth,” said David Merchant, Sumter mayor. “They continue to be an inspiration to everyone who has - and will - follow in their footsteps.”

Sumter, known for its motto of “Uncommon Patriotism,” was home to two Tuskegee Airmen: Lt. Col. Willie Ashley and Lt. Leroy Bowman. Both men were P-51 pilots in the predominantly African American Army Air Corps’ 332nd Fighter Group “Red Tails” during World War II.

The Tuskegee Airmen engaged in air-to-air and air-to-ground combat as necessary in their missions to escort Fifteenth Air Force bombers through hostile airspace. Despite the challenges faced by the Tuskegee Airmen due to the prejudices and discrimination that were common at the time, the Red Tails excelled in their mission.

According to Tuskegee Airmen Chronology by Daniel Haulman from the Air Force Historical Research Agency, “The total number of escorted bombers shot down was significantly less than the average number of bombers lost by the six other fighter escort groups of the Fifteenth Air Force.”

“The Tuskegee Airmen started a journey before there was a path. Before there was anyone ahead to look to. They paved a way that changed America,” said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr., who attended the dedication as the keynote speaker.

Brown was stationed at Shaw Air Force Base from November 1999 to June 2003, and served in a variety of roles such as F-16 Fighting Falcon instructor pilot, assistant operations officer and commander of the 55th, 78th and 79th Fighter Squadrons.

“This P-51 behind us stands as a visual memorial to the legacy of the Red Tails, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the contributions of men and women from South Carolina,” said Brown.

The dedication ceremony was open to the public and attended by not only members of the local Sumter community and Team Shaw, but also others such as Rep. G. Murrell Smith, Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives, and retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. George Bowman, a descendant of Lt. Leroy Bowman. The ceremony was also attended by joint military leadership representing the variety of major operational units based at Shaw Air Force Base including U.S. Air Forces Central, U.S. Army Central Command, Fifteenth Air Force and 20th Fighter Wing.

“The Tuskegee Airmen created a legacy of honor and made a lasting impact on our Nation. It is a legacy that echoes the noble call to service - a call that resonates through generations and continues to inspire today,” said Brown. “We stand here as stewards of that legacy. It is a legacy that transcends the military, embracing the many ways we can all serve and contribute to our communities and our country.”