The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

October 10, 2012

Tag design to honor Tuskegee Airmen



MCCCOMB, Miss. (AP) — Clint Martin's artwork depicting dogfights waged by the black World War II-era flyers known as the Tuskegee Airmen has been shown in the state Capitol, the Pentagon, a Smithsonian Institute museum, on military bases and in airports.

He hopes to see it soon on car bumpers.

Martin, a McComb native living in Hattiesburg, recently designed a commemorative license plate honoring the airmen's role in World War II of protecting bomber squadrons.

His illustration shows a Tuskegee Airman zipping through the sky in a one of the squadron's trademark P-51 Mustangs. Its tail rudder is painted a brilliant red, noting the origin of the pilots' nicknames, "Red Tails."

The pilot on the license plate isn't just some anonymous airman, it's Martin's uncle, the late Walter Downs of Magnolia, who was commander of the 301st Fighter Squadron — one of three that make up the Tuskegee Airmen's 332nd Fighter Group.

Downs and McComb native Oliver Dillon are believed to be the only Tuskegee Airmen from Pike County, according to Martin, a retired dentist and self-taught artist who served as a historical adviser for the 1995 HBO movie "The Tuskegee Airmen."

Martin said he designed the plate, and legislation passed this past year authorized its use. But 300 people must order the tag, or else the effort to honor the airmen won't get off the ground, Martin said.

"If we get 300 people — which I hope we will — they will print the tag," Martin said. "There ought to be 300 people in this state that want to put that tag on their car."

It costs an extra $31 to get the specialty tag.

Like other specialty tags, money generated from sales go to charity. In this case, it's the Trail of Honor, a massive parade of motorcycles that makes its way from California to Washington, D.C., every Memorial Day weekend and makes a stop in Jackson along the way.

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