FORT RUCKER - The Tuskegee Airmen had courage, valor and patriotism, and they displayed those three traits under adverse conditions, the keynote speaker at Fort Rucker's African American/Black History Month luncheon said. The theme of the 2001 observance is "Courage, Valor, Patriotism." "These people had courage," said Sherman T. Rose, who was one of the first instructor pilots for the Tuskegee Airmen. "They shot down 1,600 or so enemy aircraft, and came back to find that enemy POWs were treated better than they were."

FORT RUCKER - The Tuskegee Airmen had courage, valor and patriotism, and they displayed those three traits under adverse conditions, the keynote speaker at Fort Rucker's African American/Black History Month luncheon said.

The theme of the 2001 observance is "Courage, Valor, Patriotism."

"These people had courage," said Sherman T. Rose, who was one of the first instructor pilots for the Tuskegee Airmen. "They shot down 1,600 or so enemy aircraft, and came back to find that enemy POWs were treated better than they were."

Formed in 1942 in Tuskegee by the U.S. Army Aircorps, the Tuskegee Airmen were trained as fighter pilots. They were the only detachment never to lose a bomber that they escorted into the flak-filled skies of Europe and Africa, and the first American flyers to sink a German destroyer.

"The valor of these pilots changed the perception people had of black people," Rose said.

The Luftwaffe pilots called the Tuskegee Airmen "vogelmenshen," meaning black bird men, and both feared and respected their African-American opponents.

And although the black pilots never lost a bomber, they did lose 66 pilots, and another 32 became prisoners of war.

The Tuskegee Airmen were awarded more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, but the nation they helped defend did not give the pilots the respect they deserved, Rose said.

"When one of the airmen was asked why he would go out and risk his life for a country that treated him the way he was treated, he responded simply 'Because it's the only country I have.'"

Rose was born in Missouri and graduated from Washington High School in Luther, Okla. He attended the Colored Agricultural and Normal University, which is now known as Langston University in Langston, Okla.

Rose attended Tuskegee Institute where he graduated in the very first class of students to receive the Civil Pilot Training Program instruction and completed all courses from private pilot to instructor rating. After graduation, he remained as a flight instructor for Tuskegee, Division of Aeronautics, where he taught the famed 99th Pursuit Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group to fly during World War II.

He retired as a Department of the Army Civilian in 1974 after serving more than 19 years as a fixed and rotary wing instructor pilot at Fort Rucker.

As Rose was closing his remarks, he said one song kept coming to his mind, "God Bless America."

"As America is making the transition from one crook to another, all I can say is God bless America, cause we need all the help we can get," he said.

Several awards were presented relating to Black History Month at Fort Rucker, including winners of the coloring contest, art contest, and display contest. Winning the coloring contest for grades 1-3 was Edward Johnson, and for grades 4-6 was Brittney Ferguson. The art contest winner was Kenneth Torres.

Winning the display contest was the Department of Public Works, and first runner-up was Army Lodging.

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