Since the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. An act of Congress in 2006 secured the Congressional Gold Medal for all Tuskegee Experience participants from 1941 to 1949.
Wallace C. Higgins and Herbert Thorpe were presented with medals at the ceremony. Thorpe also received a medal on behalf of his late brother, Richard Thorpe. Leland H. Pennington and Robert M. Johnson were also honored and their families received medals on their behalf.
The Tuskegee Airmen were recruited into an Army Air Corps program called the “Tuskegee Experience” that trained Blacks to fly and maintain combat aircraft during World War II. They included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.
They trained as a segregated unit at an air base in Tuskegee, Ala. proving to the world that African-Americans could serve in roles beyond the mess hall or supply depot. The unit helped pave the way for desegregation of the military.