Nightly News   |  October 05, 2011

Black and white WWII vets reunite

The "greatest generation" of men who fought in World War II included soldiers of all colors, although the armed forces were officially segregated. Toward the end of the war, for a brief moment, that barrier came down. NBC's George Lewis has the story.

Share This:

This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: As we all say goodbye to members of the greatest generation and, remember, we lose 1200 of them every day, it's always a good time to honor their titanic accomplishments, especially during the war. And including what became the first real integration of the US armed forces . As we learn tonight, it might never have happened except for one big snowstorm. Our story from NBC 's George Lewis .

GEORGE LEWIS reporting: There's never been a reunion of World War II vets quite like this one. Black veterans and their white counterparts reliving an incident that brought them together as brothers in arms.

Mr. JIM SCHEIB (World War II Veteran): I feel very privileged that it snowed on our field.

LEWIS: The black vets were members of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen .

LEWIS: Fighter pilots whose heroism is the subject of the movie "Red Tails" coming out next January. First, they had to fight Washington to get into the war and prove themselves equal to or better than the white fliers. The Tuskegee Airmen flew P-51 Mustang fighter planes like this one with their tails painted a distinctive red. The bomber crews they escorted knew that when they saw the red tails, they were well protected. But the fliers of the 485th bomb group had never met any of the Tuskegee Airmen until a heavy snowstorm forced them to make an emergency landing at the Red Tails Field in Ramitelli , Italy , where they remained for five days.

Mr. TED LUMPKIN (Tuskegee Airmen): To have them on our base made a coming together that I guess was incidental, accidental and eventful.

LEWIS: They soon got beyond racial stereotypes.

Mr. SCHEIB: We started talking about flying and flying became the common ground.

Mr. LUMPKIN: You can be judged based upon -- to your abilities on, rather than the color of your skin.

LEWIS: In that snowy, wartime winter, a group of black men and a group of white men in a segregated military overcame their differences.

Mr. SCHEIB: There is such a significant impact on me personally and the other people that I've talked to.

LEWIS: And formed a bond that has endured for all these years. George Lewis , NBC News, San Diego .