Southwest Airlines Honors the Tuskegee Airmen

Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) honored 14 Tuskegee Airmen with a hero’s celebration at the airline’s Dallas maintenance facility. Two local Airmen, Captain Claude Platte of Fort Worth and Colonel Lloyd McKeethen of Cedar Hill, along with 11 Airmen from across the United States, were honored for their aviation and military contributions. The event included a flyby of an F-16, T-6 Texan, and P-51 Mustang aircraft. The T-6 and P-51 aircraft were used by the Airmen in their training missions and combat assignments.

Due to the efforts of two Southwest Airlines Dallas-based mechanics, Dale Dixon and Gordon Guillory, the Southwest Maintenance department, and sponsoring organizations, Southwest Employees had the opportunity to meet the first Airmen of color. Today’s event is one of several in the Dallas and Fort Worth communities to honor these Airmen who are a part of American history. “As an African American male, I did not know about the Tuskegee Airmen until I was 25 years old. I want children, including my own, to know the significance of these men,” said Guillory, a seven-year Employee at Southwest.

“I was inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen story — a story of determination and persistence despite the odds being against them. To me, the Airmen are an inspiration and mentors not only to the African-American community, but to the entire American community because they overcame adversity and achieved their goals,” said Dixon, a nine year Employee at Southwest and 15-year member of the U.S. Naval Reserves.

The event kicked off with a presentation of colors from the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base (NAS JRB). A Southwest Airlines Employee, Valerie LaGrone, sang the national anthem with the flyby of the historic vintage aircraft following the performance. The T-6 aircraft involved in today’s flyby is the only remaining warbird that can be traced back to Tuskegee Army Air Field where it served most of the war. It is considered the last authentic Tuskegee Airmen aircraft in existence.

At today’s event, the Tuskegee Airmen shared their memories and anecdotes about their aviation experiences in World War II with Lou Freeman, Southwest Airlines Chicago Chief Pilot, and Ed Stewart, Southwest Airlines Senior Director Public Relations. On behalf of Southwest Airlines, Jim Wimberly, Executive Vice President Aircraft Operations, thanked the Tuskegee Airmen for their contributions to America and aviation history. “Southwest Airlines, a Company known as a symbol of Freedom, thanks the Tuskegee Airmen for defending the Freedom of America. The Airmen’s love for their country and their story transcends regional and racial boundaries,” Wimberly said.

Along with today’s event, Dixon and Guillory will host the Airmen as they are honored at a banquet at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas and recognized at the NAS JRB Air Show in Fort Worth. At the banquet, the first- place winners of a Dallas Independent School District (DISD) essay contest focusing on the Tuskegee Airmen also will be recognized. The keynote speaker for the banquet is Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines Executive Chairman and an avid history buff.

The Tuskegee Airmen visit is made possible by the generous support of Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, DISD, Hertz, High Power Aviation, Lockheed Martin, Texas Aero Engine Services Limited and various corporate and individual sponsors.

The Tuskegee Airmen consisted of approximately 1,000 African-American pilots trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Alabama, between 1941 and 1946. During World War II, the 332nd Fighter Group, comprised exclusively of African-American pilots trained at Tuskegee and they never lost a bomber to enemy fighters, the only fighter group to boast that record. The Red-Tailed Angels, as the Tuskegee Airmen came to be known, flew aircraft such as the P-51 with crimson tails.

Southwest Airlines was recognized by the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) in 2003 for its commitment and support of the airline’s Employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve. At the height of the recent conflict, Southwest Airlines had 173 Employees called to serve and 73 remain on military leave.

Southwest Airlines, the nation’s largest carrier in terms of domestic passengers enplaned (according to DOT data for the third quarter of 2004), currently serves 60 airports in 59 cities in 31 states. Based in Dallas, Southwest operates 2,900 flights a day and has 32,000 employees systemwide. The carrier will begin service to Pittsburgh on May 4, 2005.

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