DIXON — Tuskegee Airman and retired Air Force Lt. Col. James Warren of Vacaville achieved one of his dreams Thursday afternoon.
His efforts to get a 17-mile section of Interstate 80 dedicated to the memory of the Tuskegee Airmen he flew with in World War II finally paid off when he, state Sen. Lois Wolk and other dignitaries dedicated the highway and unveiled the signs that will grace it.
“It is outstanding. I could not feel any better,” Warren, 90, said of the ceremony. He said this will give the Tuskegees a permanent public tribute in this area.
The dedication took place at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Dixon to a full house of veterans, military members and community leaders that included elected officials such as Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, Solano County Supervisors Erin Hannigan, John Vasquez and Jim Spering, and Dixon Vice Mayor Thom Bogue.
The Tuskegees were a group of African-American aviators who fought in World War II, primarily in the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group. They were the first black aviators in the U.S. armed forces, helping break the color barrier in the military.
Even though the bombardment group never deployed overseas, the fighter group served in southern Europe and made a name for itself as a reliable, effective outfit that kept German fighters away from the bombers they escorted.
Warren trained with the 477th during World War II and went on to serve in the Air Force for 35 years, flying 173 combat missions in Korea and Vietnam.
The retired flier joked that he never got a scratch on any of his combat missions – only to be nearly killed on the Santa Monica Freeway three months after he got out of the service.
Col. Leonard Kosinski, 60th Air Mobility Wing vice commander, paid homage to Warren and the Tuskegees.
“You are heroes, the people we look up to every day,” Kosinski said. “We are better today because of the groundwork that you and the other (Tuskegee) cadets laid.”
Vasquez lauded Warren’s service as a Tuskegee Airman.
“You not only had to fight the perils of war, but also the perils at home so that you could say, ‘We are Americans too,’ ” Vasquez said.
Wolk, D-Davis, said the memorial highway pays homage “to their service in World War II, and more importantly in the fight for equality.”
Wolk’s resolution to name the stretch of I-80 after the Tuskegee Airmen was approved in August by the state Legislature and included naming a section of Highway 37 after Vacaville resident and Vallejo Police Officer James Capoot, who was killed in the line of duty in 2011.
The resolution honoring the Tuskegees dedicates the section of I-80 between Midway Road and Highway 12 as the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Highway.
The weather only put a dent in the celebration – it canceled a flyover by a couple of local pilots who were going to honor Warren and the highway’s dedication.
“We were going to show off a little bit,” said Warren, calling up the two pilots to thank them.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.