Those who drive on Interstate 65 through Jackson County will be reminded that America’s first African-American aviators and their support staff prepared for war here while fighting for equality at home.

Beginning today, highway signs designated the stretch of the interstate from Seymour to the Bartholomew County/Johnson County line as the Tuskegee Airmen Highway in honor of the aviators, some who trained during World War II at Freeman Field in Seymour and Atterbury Air Force Base in Columbus.

Faye McDaniel, wife of the late Lt. Col. Armour G. McDaniel, a Tuskegee Airman who served as the 332nd Group operations officer, said her husband would have been proud of the reason for today’s ceremony at a hangar at the Columbus Municipal Airport.

“He always wanted to be a pilot,” she said of her husband, who died in 1989 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

“He used to tell me that when he flew, he felt like he was in heaven,” she said.

McDaniel said she met her husband after World War II and knew he had served as a pilot but later heard the stories of the Tuskegee Airmen, who flew more than 15,000 missions in the war and were honored with a Congressional Gold Medal in 1977.

The aviators, officially known as the 477th Bombardment Group, included 450 black pilots who fought aerial war over North Africa, Sicily and Europe.

Ninety-five of the 450 Tuskegee pilots won the Distinguished Flying Cross — and McDaniel himself, as operations officer, led the longest fighter escort mission to Berlin, where he had an aerial combat victory and later became a prisoner of war. McDaniel, a Hoosier transplant, would go on to found the Indianapolis chapter of Tuskegee Airmen in 1985, which led the effort to have a highway named for the airmen.

As part of the ribbon-cutting ceremonies, Faye McDaniel was surrounded by members of the military and government officials as she cut the ribbon for the highway. With family in Tennessee, she said she is familiar with the stretch of I-65 near Columbus that has been renamed and will be grateful each time she travels through.

Read the full story in Saturday’s Tribune and online at tribtown.com.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.