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Obama's rise brings attention to World War II black pilots

Before Martin Luther King Jr. gave the world his dream and Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, the Tuskegee Airmen dared to fly.

As the country's first black fighter pilot squadron, they were the test case for whether race truly colored one's ability to steer a military plane.

When they were invited to be a part of the inaugural parade two decades ago, they received little fanfare. After all, who had even heard of the Tuskegee Airmen?

Times certainly have changed. On Tuesday, living members of the first black pilot squadron will attend the swearing-in of a new president. But this time, they will be a featured attraction — receiving special seating and being honored as vanguards who led to the nation's first black commander-in-chief.

''It's a great honor for us to be invited,'' said Richard Rutledge, a former warrant officer who lives in Plantation, Fla., north of Miami. "We're hoping that it doesn't snow or rain, but we're expecting it to be cold.''

More than 400 of the pilots were dispatched to fly overseas during World War II, and they returned with almost 1,000 military medals. Their valor helped prove blacks had the intellect and the fortitude to fly as well as their white counterparts, helping to inspire President Harry S Truman to integrate the Army.

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