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Harrison Township — The famed Tuskegee airmen have been awarded, honored and saluted by a president for their service.

On Tuesday, another recognition was bestowed on the thinning ranks of the first African-American military aviation squadron in the U.S. armed forces.

“You’ve made this country what it is and we’re proud to have you here,” said Brig. General John D. Slocum at Selfridge Air National Guard Base for a ceremony to rename a street on the base in honor of the World War II airmen.

Selfridge was one of several training sites for African-American units after President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order abolishing segregation in the armed forces in 1948.

“Renaming the street is symbolic but is nothing in comparison to what you’ve done for Selfridge, for Michigan and for our country,” Slocum said.

Selfridge celebrated Black History Month day with the street renaming and honoring three of the original Tuskegee Airmen who served in the 127th Wing.

About 200 airmen, their families and local leaders gathered at the base to salute the service of former pilots Harry Stewart Jr., Fredrick Henry and Alexander Jefferson.

Stewart and Henry were on hand for the street renaming; a video presentation honored Jefferson. The base replaced a street sign with a “Tuskegee Airmen Way” sign.

“It’s wonderful to be here and I’m so honored to forever be on the streets of Selfridge,” said Stewart, 93, of West Bloomfield.

Stewart flew P-40, P-47 and P-51 fighter planes on 43 missions, escorting bombers over Germany.

“The unit started as ‘an experiment’ and it took interventions from local and military advocates to have them deploy on their first flight (the 99th Fighter Squad) to serve our country,” said Maj. Gen. Leonard Isabelle, assistant adjutant general and commander of the Michigan National Guard.

Isabelle said the airmen paved the way for desegregation of the military.

“I flew and trained everywhere, I can’t imagine going somewhere to fly and not knowing if I would have a place to sleep when I got there or if I would be treated well,” Isabelle said.

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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