Tuskegee Airman talks about discrimination military segregation

COLUMBIA - A Tuskegee Airman told stories of his time in a segregated military while speaking at a Black History Month event at the Truman VA.

World War II veteran James Shipley was a mechanic and engineer in the renowned unit.

"They said we couldn't fly. They said we didn't have brains enough to do these things, we had to prove to the world that we could," Shipley said.

He said he enlisted in the service despite the segregation of the time, because he felt he had to do it.

"I believe in our country, and I wanted to be a good citizen so I believed it was more than right for me to join up," he said.

During World War II, Blacks and Whites were separated in more than just their units.

"There's places we couldn't eat," Shipley said.

He said the discrimination only made him and his fellow servicemen more determined.

"They said we couldn't work together, because there would be too much division" Shipley said. "We proved to the military that we could."

Despite the segregation, Shipley said he wouldn't change a thing.

"I would ride just as I went," he said.

The successes and sacrifices of the Tuskegee Airmen started a change in the military. Army veteran Ryon Richman said he is proud of how far things have come.

"They paved the way for me and others today," Richman said. "Today it is a lot easier to serve."

He said it's not perfect, but the progress gives him hope for a brighter future.

"Even though there are obstacles today, they are not nearly the obstacles they had to face," Richman said. "If a young man was to ask me today, 'Do you think joining the military is a good thing?' I would say yes."

Shipley said the progress he's seen in the military holds a special meaning to him.

"I'm proud that I was a part of that, changing the military," Shipley said.

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