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Tuskegee Airmen tell of struggle, triumph in Reno

RENO -- About 500 people overflowed the auditorium of the Nevada Air National Guard Base Friday to hear the courageous stories of three original Tuskegee Airmen.
"It's emotionally filling to see so many come out and want to hear the history of these amazing men," retired Senior Master Sgt. Walter Suggs, said.

The Tuskegee Airmen, formed in the World War II era, were the first African-American military aviators in the United States. They are known for breaking ground in their field and are comprised of hundreds of proud members.

Our Story, Inc. and the National Guard sponsored the visit of retired Senior Master Sgt. George Porter, retired Chief Master Sgt. Lenard Yates and retired Tech. Sgt. Boyd Taylor to accompany the release of George Lucas's film "Red Tails." The three are members of the George S. "Spanky" Roberts chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen in Sacramento.

"I wanted a way to recognize African Americans in northern Nevada," Kenneth Dalton, founder and president of Our Story, Inc, said. "There are so many stories of amazing people that were never told. These are stories that must be shared, not forgotten."
Dalton said he admired the incredible heroes who overcame stereotypes and racism during World War II. He wished to have learned about them sooner and wanted to give younger generations an opportunity to hear their story.

Suggs, member of the Sacramento chapter, accompanied the trio from California. He and the others were invited to a pre-screening of "Red Tails" in San Francisco last November. He felt honored to be a part of it.

"I could not believe that the man who directed "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" was interested in their story," Suggs said. "George Lucas went to Hollywood and received no support for this story but he still made it happen. This is so much like our story."
After brief introductions from Suggs and Dalton, the three original airmen took the time to share a few words of wisdom with the crowd.  "No one knew about us," Porter said. "Even the government did not want us to succeed but we would not let anyone fail."  The crowd echoed a joyous "Amen" as he spoke. Before passing the microphone he shared the two ideas he believed no one should forget.  "Remember two words: respect and love," he said. "Respect and love your family and yourself."

Yates highlighted his impressive career as inspiration to those who feel they cannot succeed. He had an active duty career of 30 years and more 1,500 hours of flight time.
"Apply yourself and you can do anything you want because God is with you," he said.
Taylor was the last airman to speak. He wanted everyone to know that their story is not only one of race. It is about making a difference.  "We are all part of the United States," he said. "When we joined, during a time of segregation, we did not think we could make a difference, but we succeeded with the support of those who saw our potential to do great things."

The Tuskegee Airmen Chapter in Sacramento has 69 members and is still growing. Suggs said that anyone can join and he encourages everyone to take part.
"All you need is a good mind and the desire to teach the history of the Tuskegee Airmen," he said. "This is America's history."