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Champaign Celebrates Role In Fighter Pilots’ History

Darrell Hoemann
Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Champaign County celebrated its status as the birthplace of the Tuskegee Airmen this week. Four road signs entering the County now signify the area’s ties to the African American pilots who flew in World War Two. The Tuskegee Airmen were initially known as the ‘99th Pursuit Squadron.’ The group started at the former Chanute Air Force Base in 1941 before training in Alabama.


The celebration Thursday at the Urbana National Guard Armory recognized their efforts. James Warren, Jr says his late father was one of the original airmen, and was arrested in the 1940’s for protesting the segregation of black pilots.

James Warren Jr. : “Despite the racial climate in the country, a lot of those talents that were achieved by these individuals called the Tuskegee Airmen – were never realized in the civilian world. Even though a lot of them went on to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, even very important executives in major corporations.”


Credit RedTail_Panther / Flickr
Tuskeegee pilots flew various planes in WWII, including the North American P-51 Mustang fighter / bomber.

Warren Junior is part of the Tuskegee Airmen’s Chicago-based Dodo Chapter, named for the extinct bird that couldn’t fly… because, for years… the pilots weren’t allowed to fly commercial flights despite proving themselves during World War 2. The Dodo Chapter dedicates its efforts to teaching new generations about the Tuskegee Airmen.