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Tuskegee Airman appreciation event May 18
Val Archer - photo by File photo/The News

American Legion Post 77 will host the first community recognition of Tuskegee Airman Val R. Archer on Saturday, May 18, Armed Forces Day, 1 p.m. - 3 p.m. at 674 Legion Road, Conyers.

Guest speaker for the event is Shan Cooper, Vice President and General Manager for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics - Marietta. Cooper is responsible for the 7,000-employee Marietta operation and the subassembly sites in Meridian, Miss., and Clarksburg, W.Va. In addition, she serves as the company's Vice President of Business Ethics.

Other program participants include attorney Otis Weldon, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, Rockdale County Sheriff's Deputy Peter Elizabeth Wolfe, a Gulf War veteran and retired Army Reserve Captain, a presentation of Post 77's Sheriff's Deputy of the Year Award, and performances by local vocal group AMAYZ. The late Lt. Col. Charles W. Dryden, USAF Ret. and an original Tuskegee Airman, was a mentor to Archer and will be recognized.

Archer, now a Stockbridge-Rockdale resident, enlisted in the Army in 1944 as a young teenager from Chicago. The military was still segregated and he was placed Army Air Corps' all-black unit, the 332 fighter group. Archer, who became a crew chief, and the Tuskegee Airmen were training to fly B-25s over Japan when the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki went off and the war ended.

The group originally started out Rantoul, Ill., as an experiment. When it was approved to become the 99th fighter group, they were assigned to Tuskegee, Ala. where the Tuskegee Institute was one of six black campuses of the civilian pilot training program. From 1941 to 1946, the Tuskegee Army Air Field trained about 994 pilots and 15,000 ground personnel, of which not many are still alive.

W. H. Johnson, chairman of the Val Archer Appreciation Committee and a Navy veteran, said "We would like to see families with school age children come out and experience some living history and see what a real life hero looks like."

The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.