They were called "Red Tails" because they painted the tails of their fighter jets red during World War II.
The military saluted one of the group's few survivors today at Arlington National Cemetery. Lt. Col. Luke Weathers, a member of the storied group also known as the "Tuskegee Airmen," was laid to rest at age 90, exactly three years after the nation's first black president was inaugurated, an event for which many of the "Red Tails" feel they laid the groundwork
Lt Col Weathers was given full military honors -- something he and the other black airmen were denied when they returned home after the war.
"If you remember 1945, they were not given any recognition," Jacqueline Weathers, his widow recalls. "They weren't even allowed to have, to be a part of the parade, the ticker tape parade," at the end of the war, she said. .
The Tuskegee Airmen, or Red Tails, were a segregated unit -- the 332nd Fighter Group trained in Tuskegee, Alabama.
"Historians may not say it, but if it weren't for the success of the Tuskegee airmen, we wouldn't have won World War II," Luke Weathers III, Weathers' son said after the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery today. "I mean that's just a fact. You're not going to find that in the history books.”
In 1941 legislation forced what was then the Pentagon, or War Department, to form an all black unit. 996 pilots were trained, 445 deployed overseas. They flew more than 15,000 combat sorties, and destroyed hundreds of German planes and came home to fight another war - against racism.
Lt Col Walter McCreary flew with Weathers and described to Fox News in a 2009 interview the discrimination he and the others faced at home.
"Even Congress went on record by saying black boys, we were called 'boys' at the time, did not have the intelligence and coordination to fly a military aircraft," McCreary said.
The first movie to depict the Tuskegee airmen's achievements is being released today by 20th Century Fox in Hollywood.
President Obama and the First Lady greeted some of the surviving airmen at a White House screening last week for the movie, "Red Tails."
"He never looked at himself as a hero," his son Luke said today. "This was a great man. This was a great man. He was my father, you know, dad first. Hero second."
Jennifer Griffin currently serves as a national security correspondent for FOX News Channel . She joined FNC in October 1999 as a Jerusalem-based correspondent. You can follow her on Twitter at @JenGriffinFNC.