VACAVILLE — Tuskegee Airman and retired Air Force Lt. Col. James Warren was pretty choked up four years ago when he was able to attend the inauguration of America’s first black president.
Next month, Warren expects to be pretty choked up again when he watches Barack Obama sworn in for his second term of office.
“And I will get to meet a lot of my buddies,” said Warren, who will be part of a contingent of original Tuskegee Airmen invited to attend the inauguration.
Warren received his invitation last week and is now getting prepared to head east.
Four years ago, Vacaville residents helped him get the money he needed to pay for the plane ticket and accommodations “but I am not asking for that now,” Warren said, adding he won’t turn down the donation of a few frequent-flier miles, though.
Four years ago, he and a large contingent of surviving Tuskegee Airmen gathered at Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C., and then were bused to the Capitol for a ringside seat at the lower level of the Capitol Rotunda for the inauguration.
“It was absolutely fantastic,” Warren said of the 2009 ceremony. “I had a lot of tears flowing down my cheeks. I expect that the same thing will happen this time too.”
It was also cold, but Warren came prepared, wearing ski underwear. While waiting for the ceremony to begin, he spotted a very cold-looking woman standing behind a fence who looked like she had been waiting there for hours. He gave her his hand warmers to make the wait more bearable.
Warren, 89, expects there will be a lot fewer Tuskegees attending the inauguration this time, “because we have lost a lot of people during the last four years.”
Even though it has been four years since Obama took office, Warren’s excitement at seeing this step toward equality remains undiminished.
“I have seen a lot of changes in this country and I have fought three wars. To have an elected president who looks like me is fantastic,” Warren said.
Warren grew up in the cotton fields of Alabama and remembers hearing about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration ceremony on the radio. He asked his mother if she had voted for Roosevelt. She replied that she could not “ ‘because we were black,’ she told me,” he said.
Warren, now a Vacaville resident, joined the Army Air Force in March 1943 and was assigned to the 477th Bombardment Group, which trained at Freeman Field in Indiana. He went onto serve 35 years in the Air Force, flying missions during both the Korean and Vietnam War, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.