by Andrew Crisp
At 10 a.m. today, 88-year-old World War II veteran and one of few remaining original Tuskegee Airmen Leonard Yates, with 73-year-old Walter Suggs, president of the Tuskegee Airmen chapter in Sacramento, Calif., flew into Boise amid fanfare from local veterans.
As the first African-American service members to fly with the U.S. Air Force, the Tuskegee Airmen saw action in World War II as part of the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group. Their namesake "Red Tails" comes from the color they painted the tails of their planes.
The men traveled to Idaho to celebrate the birthday of Twin Falls 4-year-old Quinn Thorne. The boy's father, Glen, organized to bring the men to the child's party with contributions by Idaho Pizza Company, Winco Foods, Southwest Airlines and La Quinta hotels.
"I was up all last night," said an ecstatic Thorne. "I didn't get any sleep working on a replica of a Mustang for Quinn's party."
To celebrate the arrival of the two veterans, a P-51 Mustang was flown into the airport. Yates was wheeled across the tarmac, where he signed the fuselage of the Mustang, an aircraft from the World War II era.
The visit was also commemorated in Navy tradition with a jet of water sprayed over the Southwest Airlines plane.
As a group of more than 20 local veterans held American flags in color guard formation, the Boise Airport was abuzz with activity. A dozen young Navy servicemen in dress uniform showed up just as the plane landed, dispersing themselves throughout the lineup.
Yates and Suggs saluted the servicemen as they walked through the lineup. For the next two hours, Suggs and Yates shook hands and posed for pictures, standing just beside a replica of the original Wright brother's Kitty Hawk, N.C., plane located in the airport lobby.
Yates made reference to the article Boise Weekly ran May 19 previewing the men's visit. The story made the rounds at the Tuskegee chapter in Sacramento, Calif.
"Everybody who reads that story just cries," said Yates. "When I see little Quinn I know I'm going to cry."
The men head to Twin Falls with Glen to meet Quinn and his brother Brayden. Glen planned the visit as a surprise for the young boys, both obsessed with the Red Tails.