Awana Westbrook says she's thankful that her brother-in-law, Shelby Foster Westbrook, shown in the photo, will finally be honored with other surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen in Washington today. Mr. Westbrook, who lives in Chicago, graduated from Toledo's Libbey High School. Mrs. Westbrook was married to Mr. Westbrook's older brother, Lloyd, who died in 1996.
Libbey High School graduate Shelby F. Westbrook will join other surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen when the group is honored today with the Congressional Gold Medal in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.
Mr. Westbrook, who graduated from Libbey in 1939, will be one of 350 Tuskegee Airmen in attendance, said Awana Westbrook, his sister-in-law, who lives in Toledo.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award bestowed by Congress. The award must be cosponsored by at least two-thirds of the House.
Mr. Westbrook, 85, who's lived in Chicago since retiring from the Army, was part of the elite all-black unit that protected American and Allied bombers on missions. The airmen were credited with destroying 261 aircraft and damaging 148 planes.
"We are so thankful that they are finally being honored," Mrs. Westbrook said. "They've been trying for a long time to be recognized for the things they did."
Mrs. Westbrook said she was married to Mr. Westbrook's older brother, Lloyd, who died in 1996. She said the younger Mr. Westbrook was fascinated with flying. "As a child growing up, he loved airplanes," Mrs. Westbrook said. "We knew he would do something with airplanes. After the service, he tried to become a commercial pilot, but the black pilots were not allowed to have those jobs. He was actually told to go to Canada and he may get hired."
Shelby F. Westbrook
Mr. Westbrook trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Force Base in Alabama beginning in 1942. He flew missions over France and Italy. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Presidential Unit Citation, and 15th Air Force Certificate of Valor.
"They were very proud of their service," Mrs. Westbrook said. "He talked about what it was like trying to become the first black pilots and the things they had to overcome. He was never sorry about anything he ever did."
Nearly 1,000 black pilots graduated from the Tuskegee Institute by the time the last class graduated in 1946. The airmen long claimed they never lost a single bomber to enemy fighters, but in December two historians said that contrary to legend, the fighter pilots did lose at least a few bombers to fire from enemy aircraft.
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