VIDEO: Cantwell, Murray Introduce Senate Resolution Paying Tribute to Tuskegee Airman George Hickman
Cantwell in floor speech: ‘He was a true American hero and an inspiration for all of us’
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced a resolution paying tribute to the life of Tuskegee Airman George Hickman. Hickman, a resident of Seattle, passed away on August 19, 2012. Cantwell spoke on the Senate floor about the barriers he broke as one of the first African-American pilots and his impact on the Seattle community.
“With George’s passing, certainly there is one more angel in Heaven with a very big smile on their face,” said Cantwell on the Senate floor today. “We owe George Hickman a great deal. Because beneath that big smile lay a quiet determination and courageous spirit that helped him make America a better place for all. He was a true American hero and an inspiration for all of us. And for those that he touched through his life. His spirit will live on.”
“Whereas George Hickman was renowned as a Tuskegee Airman, a treasured leader in the Seattle community, and the lucky charm of Seattle sports until his passing on August 19, 2012, at the age of 88,” said the resolution offered by Senators Murray and Cantwell. “Be it resolved that the Senate commends the long and loving life of George Hickman, his service to our country as a Tuskegee Airman and his role as an aviation pioneer; recognizes the service George Hickman fulfilled to his country and his significance as a role model for African-American military pilots; [and] recognizes the contributions of the Greatest Generation of Americans who fought for our freedoms.”
Watch a video of Senator Cantwell’s floor speech.
During her floor speech, Cantwell encouraged Americans to learn more about the history of the Tuskegee Airmen. She encouraged Washingtonians to visit exhibits at the Seattle Museum of Flight and the Northwest African American Museum.
“George Hickman, a Washington resident and a Tuskegee Airman, was truly part of America’s Greatest Generation,” Cantwell said on the Senate floor. “Amidst jeers and insults the Tuskegee Airmen quietly went about their job with grace. Through grit and determination they barreled through full of dead-ends and blocked doors and shined light for others to follow.”
Honoring the life and career of George Hickman
Whereas George Hickman was renowned as a Tuskegee Airman, a treasured leader in the Seattle community, and the lucky charm of Seattle sports until his passing on August 19, 2012, at the age of 88;
Whereas George Hickman leaves behind a loving wife of 57 years, Doris; 4 children, Regina, Sherie, Vincent, and Shauneil; three grandchildren; and 1 great grandchild;
Whereas George Hickman served as a Tuskegee Airman, becoming one of the first African-American fighter pilots trained for World War II;
Whereas George Hickman served in the Army Air Corps from 1943 until 1945;
Whereas the honorable service of George Hickman and the other Tuskegee Airmen directly led to the desegregation of the Armed Forces of the United States;
Whereas George Hickman received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 with his fellow Tuskegee Airmen;
Whereas George Hickman was a special guest along with nearly 200 other Tuskegee Airmen at the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama;
Whereas George Hickman worked as a B-52 engineer for Boeing from 1955 until his retirement in 1984;
Whereas George Hickman was a beloved usher at University of Washington athletic events for more than 40 years;
Whereas George Hickman also was a fan favorite as an usher at Seattle Seahawks games for nearly a decade: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the Senate –
(1) Commends the long and loving life of George Hickman, his service to our country as a Tuskegee Airman and his role as an aviation pioneer;
(2) Recognizes the service George Hickman fulfilled to his country and his significance as a role model for African-American military pilots;
(3) Recognizes the contributions of the Greatest Generation of Americans who fought for our freedoms; and
(4) Requests the Secretary of the Senate to transmit an enrolled copy of this resolution for appropriate display to Doris Hickman, the University of Washington Athletic Department, and to the Seattle Seahawks organization.
FLOOR SPEECH TRANSCRIPT:
Before I start Mr. President I want to take a moment to say that my thoughts and prayers are with the families and the victims of the horrific attack, that happened in Libya.
And that it is now time to remember all of the men and women who serve our country abroad in these embassies.
And to thank them for their service and hope for their protection.
Mr. President, on a chilly day in January 2009, Americans watched with pride as Barack Obama stood before the nation and took the Presidential oath of office.
For some, that experience was another milestone in a long journey to ensure that America lives up to the idea that this country was built for everyone.
The election of an African-American president shattered a barrier that many thought would never happen.
The American struggle for civil rights has produced many seminal moments.
Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Martin Luther King at the March on Washington. Jackie Robinson stepping up to the plate for the first time.
But before all of these events, there were the Tuskegee Airmen.
And George Hickman, a Washington resident and a Tuskegee Airman, was truly part of America’s Greatest Generation.
They were the catalyst for the eventual desegregation of the entire United States military.
And on March 19th, 1941, the 99th Pursuit Squadron was formed at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
When the United States was waging war against tyranny abroad, the members of what became known as the Tuskegee airmen fought it, and fought around the globe for us.
Breaking barriers is never easy. At the time the competence and patriotism of these African-Americans sometimes was openly questioned.
But the Tuskegee Airmen didn’t listen to those critics. They were fighting for what this country could be, not what it was.
In the first class of graduates there was only five. But before the war’s end, almost a 1,000 pilots went through combat training at Tuskegee.
Of those, four hundred and fifty flew planes in the 99th Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group in missions across Europe.
And they used the steely resolve they had shown in the face of racism to their advantage.
The 99th conducted bomber escort missions with stunning success. They flew 200 of 205 of these missions without the loss of a single bomber to the enemy aircraft.
The 332nd group achieved just as much. The “Red Tail” fighters came to be feared in the skies because of feats like the one Lieutenant Gynne Pierson pulled when he took out a German destroyer in the Harbor of Trieste, Italy with just a 50-caliber machine gun.
Equally important were the Tuskegee pilots who broke barriers at home.
They may not have participated in combat but they proved that they were instrumental in powering the American military that eventually won the war.
Amidst jeers and insults the Tuskegee Airmen quietly went about their job with grace.
Through grit and determination they barreled through full of dead-ends and blocked doors and shined light for others to follow.
President Obama acknowledged as much when he said,
Quote—my career in public service was made possible by the path that these heroes like Tuskegee Airmen have blazed.
These important Tuskegee Airmen were pioneers. And among them was George Hickman, from Seattle. Proud and smiling as always. As you can see in this photograph.
Mr. President, I rise today to honor the life of this American hero and loyal Washingtonian.
George Hickman passed away on August 19th at the age of 88.
We owe George Hickman a great deal. Because beneath that big smile lay a quiet determination and courageous spirit that helped him make America a better place for all.
George grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and he loved building model planes. Which he bought one for 10 cents at Woolworth’s. And it became his dream to become a pilot.
At 18, he pursued that dream.
And when he graduated from high school in 1943, George trained with the Army’s all-African American 99th Pursuit Squadron in Tuskegee, Alabama.
He was a Tuskegee Airman. And one of our nation’s first African-American fighter pilots.
George’s passion for aviation continued after his service was up. And as a mechanic with the Tuskegee Airmen he developed skills that allowed him to succeed in college and graduate from college.
And eventually George brought his expertise to Boeing when he moved to Seattle in 1955.
In over 29 years of his career he rose through the ranks at Boeing. But that’s not where this story ends.
George was also an uplifting spirit. And he had the most radiant smile; you can see that from this picture.
And that smile was there for his community, his family, and everyone who met him.
George became a well-known figure at Seattle sporting events for the University of Washington Huskie and the Seattle Seahawks. In fact, people called him our lucky charm.
For more than 40 years, he served as a press attendant and usher at UW sporting events.
He never missed a game, including Rose Bowls. And he was there to give moral support to everyone. Even, he went to the basketball and volleyball games and gave high-fives to everybody on the court.
As the UW basketball coach Lorenzo Romar put it: “He is a guy that is selfless. He is always trying to lift everyone up.”
I always wondered, seeing this picture of George, many times before today, what was it about the steely reserve of an airman, that then became so grounded in what was really important in life.
Sharing and lifting others people up. But that’s exactly what George did.
And the University of Washington lifted George up too. They helped collect enough money so that he could travel back here and be part of President Obama’s inauguration with those 188 others Tuskegee Airman.
Some estimates are, that more than half of those Tuskegee Airman that were there, are no longer with us.
With George’s passing, certainly there is one more angel in Heaven with a very big smile on their face.
But here on earth, we have one fewer American hero from the Tuskegee days, to tell their story.
So, today, I encourage all Americans to learn about the story of the Tuskegee Airmen.
For those of you in the Pacific Northwest, I encourage you to visit the Museum of Flight in Seattle or the Northwest African American Museum because they both have exhibits on display about this epic story.
And it’s a great opportunity to reflect on the people who inspired our nation and ended up changing the course of American history.
George may no longer be with us, but he will always be remembered for that very big smile.
And for those that he touched through his life. His spirit will live on.
It’s almost as if he is saying in that picture, you can get it done. We can get it done.
His legacy lives on in his children, Regina and Sherie and Vincent and Shauneil. And in his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
And we will all carry on this legacy with United States military and the trail-blazing Tuskegee Airmen.
George’s spirit will also carry on back home, at Husky stadium and at Hec Edmunson Pavilion.
And many people—the Seattle city council and the university, and the Seahawks—have all honored him in their special ways.
So Mr. President, on behalf of a grateful nation it is my pleasure to introduce a resolution to honor the life of an American hero.
A great Washingtonian, George Hickman. And his wife Doris summed it up, “George loved his family and enjoyed life to the fullest.”
He was a true American hero and an inspiration for all of us.
I hope we pass this resolution.
Thank you Mr. President and I yield the floor.
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