OSHKOSH, Wisconsin - They are a living piece of United States history. "The Good War" and ugly racial underbelly.
Two Tuskegee Airmen will be honored this week at the world’s largest aviation convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
It is an honor long overdue for many of the African American pilots who helped win World War II.
On Tuesday, 101-year-old Charles McGee and 96-year-old George Hardy inspected a vintage Red Tail P-51 Mustang warplane at Wittman Field in Oshkosh, just like the ones they flew in scores of combat missions over Europe in World War II.
"I used to be able to climb up on that wing," said McGee with a chuckle.
The two Tuskegee Airmen are being honored at this week’s massive EAA Convention in Oshkosh, attended by more than half a million people.
"People need to know or should know our story, what we went through," said Hardy. "As far as Tuskegee was concerned, when we started out it was a real racist divide in this country."
Nearly 1,000 African American pilots and 2,000 support personnel trained at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama during World War II, at a time when the military was deeply segregated.
Currently, only eight Tuskegee Airmen remain to tell their story.
"I flew 21 combat missions before the war ended," Hardy remembered. "Geez, 19-years-old, it was exciting you know."
McGee was a student at the University of Illinois taking flying lessons when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
After being trained at Tuskegee, he flew 136 combat missions over Europe and scores more in the Korean and Vietnam wars, eventually rising to the rank of brigadier general.
McGee wanted to be an airline pilot, but could not get hired because of his skin color.
"Persevere," said McGee. "Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do something, and don’t use those types of negatives for not achieving."
McGee talked about his Tuskegee experience before a large crowd Tuesday that included several aspiring African American pilots.
"There’s not a lot of myself, not a lot of General McKee’s in aviation," said Dwayne Tulloch, an African American student pilot from Florida. "And he and the other Tuskegee Airmen paved the way for myself and others to be able to fly today. And for that I’m very much grateful."
It is why these old airmen say they fought two wars. The one in Germany and the one at home.
"In fact, we went to Germany and we fought the war against Germans, and then came back here and fought the racial war in this country," said Hardy.
Both Tuskegee Airmen and the plane they flew will be meeting the public and signing autographs at the EAA event until Saturday.