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State Honors Champaign Man For Promoting Tuskegee Airmen Roots

Mark Schultz
Illinois Public Radio



The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs honored a Champaign man for his work publicizing Rantoul’s connection to the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II.

Rob Gorham received one of the Illinois Patriotic Volunteer and Appreciation Awards on Thursday, during a ceremony at the National Guard Armory in Urbana.

The award recognized Gorham for educating the public that the all-black military aviators group received its initial ground crew training at the Chanute Air Base in Rantoul, before moving on to Alabama.

Champaign County welcomed the Tuskegee Airmen in 1941 after the group initially had trouble finding a home.

Gorham said the city of Saint Louis was first to turn down a chance to host the airmen. He explained, “Plan B was to do it in Detroit. The Detroit political officials said, ‘Not in our airspace.’ Champaign County said, ‘Of course it’ll happen here at Chanute Air Base.’”

The pioneering pilots eventually completed their training in Tuskegee, Alabama, where they got their famous name; however Gorham wants people to remember Champaign County was first to roll out the red carpet.

“It’s interesting that the Tuskegee Airmen are associated with Alabama, when they really should be tied most directly to Champaign County,” Gorham added.

Thanks to Gorham’s work, there are signs on all county highways entering Champaign County noting Rantoul as the birthplace of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Gorham will be recognized at the Illinois State Fair next month and he is eligible for the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Volunteer of the Year award.