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Road to the past: Portion of highway dedicated to Tuskegee Airmen

Lt. Col. (ret.) James Warren, Senator Lois Wolk, Aubrey Matthews and Edith Roberts proudly present the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Highway sign that will be displayed on Interstate 80 Feb. 6 at the Veterans Hall in Dixon, Ca. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Madelyn Brown)

Retired Lt. Col. James Warren (right), Senator Lois Wolk, Aubrey Matthews and Edith Roberts proudly present the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Highway sign that will be displayed on Interstate 80 Feb. 6, 2014, at the Veterans Hall in Dixon, Cali. Warren joined the armed forces in 1942 as a pilot and began his 35-year legacy as an original Tuskegee Airman. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Madelyn Brown)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- Although retired Lt. Col. James Warren established a distinguished flying career throughout three wars in the U.S. Army Air Force, he was once arrested for simply having the wrong skin color in the wrong establishment.

Warren joined the armed forces in 1942 as a pilot and began his 35-year legacy as an original Tuskegee Airman.

The preservation of the Tuskegee Airmen legacy that Warren worked for was memorialized in the form of a 17-mile stretch of Interstate 80. As of Feb. 6, drivers will pass by the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Highway signs that serve as tribute to the "Red Tails" and their history.

"By designating this 17-mile stretch of highway, we pay homage to their service and sacrifice," said Lois Wolk, a California senator for the third district. "We will remember and others will learn who the Tuskegee Airmen are."

A crowd of more than 100 veterans, civic leaders, elected officials and supporters filled the Veterans Hall in Dixon, Calif. to witness the public tribute to the historic Airmen. Warren was both the speaker of honor for the ceremony as well as the driving force behind the highway dedication.

"The pride I get from this is the greatest pride I've felt in a long time," Warren said. "It means I'm leaving a legacy behind."

During his time in service, Warren fought America's enemies in foreign skies while simultaneously fighting for his civil rights at home.

He served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. His 35 years of service culminated in more than 12,000 flying hours.

Due to his precision as a pilot, Warren was selected to be the navigator on Homecoming One, a C-141 Starlifter that flew into North Vietnam to return the first group of prisoners of war in 1973.

Warren's distinguished career started out with the strife of racial tensions within the armed forces. In 1945, he was one of 104 African American protestors arrested at Freeman Field, Ind.

The 477th Bombardment Group was comprised of African American pilots being trained to fly bomber aircraft. When the group relocated to Freeman Field the commander created a Club Number One and a Club Number Two. The 477th pilots came in waves of 10 to 20 and would stage sit-ins at Club Number One; the club where African American trainees were not permitted. Most were arrested, many were reprimanded and a few were court-martialed. The day would historically become known as the Freeman Field Mutiny.

"Tuskegee Airmen never quit," Warren said.

To this day, Warren maintains this mantra. At the age of 87 he became certified for his private pilot's license.

At the dedication ceremony, Warren said it was a dream come true to see the respect and understanding of the Tuskegee Airmen legacy fill the room.

"We know this recognition is long overdue, but it is sincere and we are honored to be a part of making this happen," Wolk said.

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