Press Release

May 15, 2015
Cardin Presents Congressional Gold Medal to Former Tuskegee Airman William A. Colbert, Jr.
Senator bestows overdue award of rare distinction to Maryland native who served in first African-American combat unit of Army Air Corps

CUMBERLAND, Md. — U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) today presented a Congressional Gold Medal to former Tuskegee Airman William A. Colbert, Jr., whose poor health had prevented his attendance at an awards ceremony in 2007 when the 300 other famed “Red Tails” were duly recognized for their service.  


“William Colbert, a Maryland native, is receiving this rare distinction for serving his country in the first African-American combat unit of the Army Air Corps, breaking through barriers without any expectation of fame or fanfare. But his contributions to his beloved country and home state go far beyond that groundbreaking accomplishment during World War II,” said Senator Cardin, who recently filed a formal statement honoring Colbert in the Congressional Record. “Mister Colbert also served in the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps, which left a lasting legacy of improvements of our country’s public lands. He is a widely admired family man who shared his heart, home and talents with a multitude of family and friends. William Colbert even has the additional distinction of being a great-great grandfather.”


After spending time working in the Baltimore shipyards, Colbert enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1943 and achieved the rank of Flight Officer at the Tuskegee Army Air Field.  He was alerted for overseas duty on two occasions, but the war ended prior to his deployment. While Colbert never saw combat, he learned to fly with the best, and became a full-fledged Red Tail. Colbert has always considered his contribution to the Tuskegee Airmen as what he was called to do as a citizen. When he returned to Cumberland after his military service, Colbert worked as a tire builder for the Kelly-Springfield Tire Company for 33 years until his retirement. 


“William Colbert’s deep sense of commitment to his country and community are further illustrated by the fact that he personally ensured that the stars and stripes were raised and lowered each day on the former Pine Avenue Playground, which was located directly across the street from his house,” said Senator Cardin. “I have the utmost respect for this man whose spirit of service lasted long beyond the time he wore a uniform, and I am humbled by the chance to present this distinction to him today.”