A Dubuque woman’s suggestion that Dubuque Regional Airport’s new terminal be named in honor of a Dubuque native son who went on to be one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II is an excellent idea.
That the TH Editorial Board supports the idea shouldn’t come as surprise since we made the same suggestion in this space last year — and a similar suggestion the year before.
It was two years ago, upon the death of Robert L. Martin as we wrote about his history and legacy, that it seemed he was a man worthy of having his name on a Dubuque locale or edifice. Martin died in 2018 at age 99. He had been a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, a corps of African American fighter pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. Their exemplary and courageous service contributed to subsequent racial integration in the U.S. military.
Collectively, the Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 15,000 sorties over North Africa and Europe and earned more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses. Their remarkable story involves not only taking on Nazis and other Axis powers in battle, but taking on blatant racial discrimination within American society and the military ranks.
Martin himself earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, seven awards of the Air Medal and, as a surviving member of the Tuskegee Airmen, a Congressional Gold Medal.
He flew, as he put it, “63½ missions.” He was shot down over German-held territory during No. 64, suffered an injury, but worked his way back to Allied lines with tremendous help from a network of anti-fascist Yugoslavians. His dangerous journey to safety lasted five weeks.
Martin had been through a lot long before that harrowing experience. His mother died not long after he was born in Dubuque in February 1919. No doubt, racial discrimination faced him at every turn — in Dubuque, at Iowa State University and in the military. Yet, he overcame it and served his country with courage and valor.
The late Tuskegee Airman was back in the news last summer when the Chicago suburb of Olympic Fields, Ill., where Martin lived many years, announced the local post office would be named in his honor.
That’s when the TH Editorial Board noted that Dubuque — his hometown — should likewise honor this late native son. Given Dubuque’s unflattering history regarding race, especially during the years when he was a Boy Scout and student here, it would be all the more fitting that this city honor and celebrate someone who overcame injustices to serve our country with distinction.
And what could be more appropriate for a flying ace than to link Martin’s name with aviation?
The Robert L. Martin Airport has a nice ring to it. If renaming the airport itself isn’t an option, surely one of these options could be done:
- The Robert L. Martin terminal
- Robert L. Martin Field
- Robert L. Martin Drive (rather than Aviation Drive)
Whatever is done, there should be a nice plaque (or even a statue) at or in the terminal telling Martin’s story and expressing his hometown’s pride, belated as it might be, for his courageous connection to history.
Dawnelle Gordon, of Dubuque, has pushed this idea even further — making a formal request of the Airport Commission and starting a petition on Change.Org. She deserves credit for helping this good idea take flight.
Dubuque City Council members agreed earlier this month to make racial equity a central theme when they determine city priorities later this year. Here’s an opportunity for a great stride forward in recognizing the contributions of African Americans in our community.