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Remembering the Red Tails | How Tuskegee Airmen's legacy lives on in Kansas City

Posted: 5:00 PM, Mar 26, 2024
Updated: 2024-03-28 13:34:52-04
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Editor's Note: Beginning March 25, 2024, KSHB 41 will air a three-part series on the Tuskegee Airmen with a focus on those who were born in Kansas and Missouri. Part one tells the story of Virgil Brashears, a second lieutenant in World War II from Kansas City, Missouri, through the words of his widow. Part two shows how the Tuskegee Airmen's legacy is honored and lives on in Kansas City.

As KSHB 41 continues our Remembering the Red Tails series, we wanted to highlight a Kansas City-area organization that honors the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.

The Tuskegee Airmen volunteered during World War II to become the first Black military airmen, often escorting U.S. white bomber pilots across enemy lines during combat. While the Tuskegee Airmen — also known as the Red Tails — served their country, they often faced discrimination as they overcame racial barriers in the armed forces.

Of the approximate 1,000 Black men who trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama during the 1940s, 49 of them originated from Kansas and Missouri.

READ MORE | Learn the stories of 49 Kansas, Missouri Tuskegee Airmen

On Jan. 27, 2024, the song "God Bless America" could be heard throughout the halls of the Disabled American Veterans Building in Independence, Missouri, off of Highway 40.

This Tuskegee Airmen Heart of America Chapter meets every month and is designed so the airmen's legacies are not forgotten across Kansas City.

"It’s really an honor to keep on the legacy, so I am the president of the Kansas City area of the Tuskegee Airmen," Retired Chief Master Sgt. Morcie Whitley said.

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Morcie Whitley served in the National Guard in St. Joseph, Missouri, and is the daughter of an original Tuskegee Airman, Morris D. Whitley.

When her father first told her about these Black pilots, it was a story that seemed unbelievable.

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Morris Whitley, Morcie's father

"My father was really strict on lying," Morcie Whitley said. "One day my dad was telling me about some Black guys in an airplane. I never saw Black guys in an airplane, so it hurt me to my core because I thought he wasn’t telling the truth."

But it wasn't long before she learned he was telling the truth.

"To know that your daddy is a hero, or was, a hero, it’s a big deal," she said.

These were the first Black aviators who protected U.S. white pilots in World War II.

“We’d go to places, and people would clap for him and thank him; I even met a guy one time who said the Tuskegee Airmen saved his father. Any history is good to know," Morcie Whitley said.

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Ormer Rogers, the former president and a 30-year member of Heart of America Tuskegee Airmen Chapter, explained why it's important for him to keep their legacy alive.

"I could never do for this country what they did, even if I had two more lifetimes to go" Rogers said. "Their accomplishment was tremendous; I have to do my little part and keep on moving."

Rogers’ mission ensures every local Tuskegee family receives a Congressional Medal of Honor.

"First of all, this thing is heavy," Rogers said. "To accomplish what they did and to get no recognition for it was a disgrace. But when President Bush saluted them, it took away all that hardship and all that ill will they suffered at that time."

In 2007, President George W. Bush made a point to recognize the Tuskegee Airmen’s service and sacrifice.

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"For him to say, and publicly acknowledge, 'I salute you,' it took away all those times that those salutes were never given, that they know they’ve received it from the highest office in the land," Rogers said. "That moment was the moment they were finally getting the recognition they deserved."

The impact the airmen had on Rogers' life was monumental, he said.

"They achieved great things, and they had a lot to do with race relations in this country as what they achieved against all odds," he said.

The Tuskegee Airmen's achievements are not lost on those who are inspired by the trailblazing aviators.

"I look at my life and know it’s only because of what they did that I can do what I did," Rogers said. "It is an emotional time, it’s not something you can take lightly."

KSHB 41 showed Morcie Whitley a list of 49 Tuskegee Airmen who were born in Kansas and Missouri and asked her what that signifies.

“Heroes," she said. "All heroes, and I hope everybody gets an opportunity to know about them also."