Event honors Dallas-area Tuskegee Airmen

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by By JASON TRAHAN / The Dallas Morning News

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:44 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 4:14 PM

For Charrionte Isidore, the chance to meet men who made history was too hard to pass up.

BRANDON THIBODEAUX/Special Contributor
At Skyline Ranch in Oak Cliff, Tuskegee Airmen Calvin J. Spann, John Flanagan Jr., Donald E. Elder and Robert T. McDaniel shake hands with Margaret Willis (left) and Mashondi Payne after the girls sang during a tribute banquet.

The 15-year-old Kimball High School student volunteered Sunday to appear with her ROTC unit at a first-of-its kind celebration to honor five local members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the country's first black military pilots.

"It's just an honor to meet them," Charrionte said during the event at Skyline Ranch in southeast Oak Cliff. She said meeting the barrier-breaking airmen had inspired her to consider joining the Air Force after graduation.

She and her ROTC colleagues in Sunday's color guard said that, although their history teachers had mentioned the World War II airmen's accomplishments, a lot of their friends "don't care about them."

The event, organizers say, aims to help change that. It was the work of the newly formed Calvin J. Spann Foundation, named for one of the 944 black airmen who trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama.

"I want young people to know that they shouldn't let anyone tell them that they can't do anything," said Mr. Spann, 83, of Allen, as he watched two of his young grandsons play nearby. "I just wish I could be around long enough to watch them fly an airplane."

Also present Sunday were Donald E. Elder, 80, of Arlington, and three Fort Worth men: Claude R. Platte, 87, John Flanagan Jr., 84, and Robert T. McDaniel, 85.

Mr. McDaniel was one of several airmen court-martialed for trying to combat rampant racism in the service by attempting to integrate an officers club. He and the rest of those charged were later cleared.

They were among the 300 or so who traveled to Washington, D.C., in March 2007 to take part in the ceremony honoring all the Tuskegee Airmen with the country's highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.

Kasey Rector of Fort Worth brought her four children to the event so that they could see history in person.

"When they're gone, they're gone," said Ms. Rector, whose 5-year-old son, Jayden House, aspires to be a pilot like his father, who also runs a flight school.

"If it weren't for them, my husband wouldn't have a career."

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