TUCSON, Ariz. --
A first sergeant who spent time studying the history of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen
finally had opportunity to honor the legacy of one Airman whose efforts and struggles trail blazed the quality of life for all in the U.S. Armed Forces.
"I've studied the Tuskegee Airmen for some time now, but it's my honor and privilege to actually have met a Tuskegee Airman," said Master Sgt. Michael Wilson, first sergeant, 943rd Aerospace Medical Squadron.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military squadron of aviators in the U.S. armed forces who despite being racially segregated and enduring racial discrimination, both within and outside the army, flew with distinction.
Wilson and his wife Michelle who works at the Campana del Rio senior living community found out they had a Tuskegee Airman living there, Mr. Ralph Stewart.
"I wanted to make sure that we honored him for his service," said Wilson. "I also wanted to let him know that his efforts were not forgotten. His service played an important role in the freedom of our country."
Stewart joined the Army Air Corps
in 1943 serving as an aircraft mechanic on the B-25 and B-26 Bombers. Stewart said that his unit was so new that they did not know what to do with them when they were first formed.
"They sent us everywhere because no one wanted us, so we banded together to help each other out and ensure that we all had what we needed to survive," said Stewart.
Before the Tuskegee Airmen, no African American had been a U.S. military pilot. In 1917, African American men had tried to become aerial observers, but were rejected.
During the ceremony, the Davis- Monthan Air Force Base
Honor Guard presented Stewart with an American flag in honor of his service.
"I don't really feel like I deserve this," said Steward humbly. "This was much unexpected and I'm very overwhelmed by this."
Col. Harold Maxwell, 943rd Rescue Group
commander, spoke about the legacy of Stewart and called him a man of action.
"Not only did you have to fight a physical enemy, but you also had to combat another enemy, racism," said Maxwell. "Your efforts and service have helped make the Air Force the best organization that I've served in my life."
Wilson emphasized that all Airmen to know and study the history of the Air Force and what others had to endure to help mold it into the great organization that it is today.
"It very important that the younger generations know what Stewart had to endure because we are living in the Air Force that people like Stewart envisioned many, many years ago," he said.
"I also want to make sure that no one ever has to go through what Stewart had to endure while he was serving in the Air Force."
For more information on the 920th Rescue Wing, visit their website