Tuskegee Airmen watch their history on silver screen

January 15, 2012 8:45:32 PM PST
Local members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen were treated to a taste of Hollywood Sunday with an advance screening of a new George Lucas film on the elite group of fighter pilots.

The airmen, family, friends and fans packed a theater in the South Loop to see "Red Tails," the story of the famous African American squad.

Shelby Westbrook is one of several African Americans who made military history, becoming part of the Tuskegee Airmen group, who fought in World War II. The group was formed after civil rights organizations fought against the ban on black military pilots.

"We would have 72 airplanes in the air, we were more than a token force," Westbrook said. "We fought in 15 countries in Europe."

So what do these heroes think of the story flying on the silver screen decades later?

"It's really quite impressive," said Joseph Hilton. "Enjoying the attention we're getting"

As for the truth of the script, Westbrook said, "I'll say it's 10 percent true, 90 percent Hollywood. That's OK, the 10 percent makes up for it."

Lucas funded the movie himself after having trouble getting financing from studios which apparently didn't believe in the film. But it's not lacking audience appeal here, even younger generations are excited about the action and the history lesson.

Organizers of the Ruggeles Mentorship Program brought its young members to the screening.

"A generation of lost history, a lot of younger people didn't know the sacrifice," said Alvin Rider of the mentoring program. "My goal was to get them to meet them, touch them."

Willie Lov, a member of the program said, "It makes me feel great. I can do anything I want in life."

And that inspiration is what makes pilots like Westbrook so proud .

"I'm happy to see a crowd of young black girls and boys they can see what dignity and self respect can do," Westbrook said.

The movie "Red Tails," starring Cuba Gooding Jr., and Terrence Howard, opens in theaters Jan. 20.