Tuskegee Airmen Pack the House

Some 200 people, mostly Whiteman Air Force Base personnel and their families, streamed into the Carmike Cinema Saturday afternoon to shake hands and snap photos with two original members of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Brig. Gen. Scott A. Vander Hamm, commander of the 509th Bomb Wing, said they brought the Heart of America Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen to Warrensburg to celebrate Black History Month and to honor the group with a special showing of the new Tuskegee-inspired movie, “Red Tails.”

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black military airmen in the United States. They trained in Tuskegee, Ala., where some 1,000 black pilots graduated from 1941 to 1946.

James Shipley, 88, of Tipton, Mo., was a crew chief with the 332nd Fighter Group and served in Europe. Charles Ellington, 88, of Olathe, Kan., was a radio operator with the 332nd and served in the states during the war.

Both men were treated like celebrities during the meet and greet. They signed autographs, shared stories and posed for dozens of photographs.

Vander Hamm stood on a bench and addressed the crowd just before everyone made their way into the theater to watch the movie.

“The reason you’re here is to celebrate history,” the commander said. “And to celebrate a group of men who were not treated as equals but overcame despite that.”

The Heart of America Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen not only help spread awareness about these important veterans. They also promote citizenship by awarding scholarships to high school seniors who are involved in community service.

The program on Saturday was also sponsored by the Warrensburg Military Affairs Committee and the Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce.

James Shipley, 88, of Tipton, Mo., a crew chief with the 332nd Fighter Group, signs a visitor's hat.

From left, Charles Ellington, 88, of Olathe, Kan., a radio operator with the 332nd, stands with Senior Master Sgt. Morcie Whitley, of the Heart of America Tuskegee Airmen, and Brig. Gen. Scott A. Vander Hamm, commander of the 509th Bomb Wing. Whitley's father, Morris Whitley, was a draftsman with the original Tuskegee group. He died in 2008.

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