LOUISVILLE, Ky. — During this year's Thunder Over Louisville airshow, onlookers will see a historic plane connected to the first black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Forces.
It was 75 years ago that the Army Air Corps started the first all-black flying unit. The selection process was difficult, as the Air Corps wrote a document saying Black people lacked determination and ability to serve.
Pilots were subject to standardized tests, their leadership abilities were questioned and phycologists analyzed their dexterity before they were ever able to join. The squadron of Black pilots proved the country wrong.
"The Tuskegee Airmen, they weren't known as the Tuskegee airmen then," said Doug Rozendaal, leader of the CAF Rise Above Squadron. "They were just a fighter squadron of Black pilots. They were deployed to North Africa and Italy and served admirably and had a incredible combat record."
The Tuskegee Airmen flew P-51 Mustangs in combat. Now, Rozendaal's crew flies Mustangs similar to the aircraft at shows to inspire onlookers and remind everyone of the contributions of the squadron.
"All they wanted was an opportunity to prove they could serve," Rozendaal said. "That's what they got and what they did. I think their service was impeccable and it changed the world."
Just under 1,000 pilots were part of the Tuskegee airmen. Their combat records and service to the country laid the groundwork for every Black military member that followed.
In 1948, after President Truman desegregated the military, these veterans found themselves in high demand. The Tuskegee Airmen were collectively honored with a congressional gold medal in 2007.
Now, Rozendaal said he is honored to one of the few pilots who gets to carry the story forward during airshows.
"It tells the story of the Tuskegee airmen and helps young people understand that they can be whatever they want to be," Rozendaal said. "When given an opportunity, and that's what its about, opportunity... they can achieve great things."
For more on Thunder Over Louisville, click here.