Miss. man to fly Tuskegee airmen to inauguration

Published 12:11 am Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Three World War II veterans, all members of the Tuskegee Airmen, will be guest of a Hattiesburg doctor at Tuesday’s inauguration of Barack Obama.

Dr. Robert Higginbotham, Reginald Ballard and Robert J. Searcy, all of Los Angeles, didn’t have transportation to the historic event.

So Hattiesburg ophthalmologist Dr. Lynn McMahan volunteered to get the airmen to Hattiesburg and from there fly them on his Citation jet to Washington on Monday. The Tuskegee Airmen were the country’s first black military pilots and ground crew. They trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama.

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“The Tuskegee Airmen are to pilots like Michael Jordan is to basketball, and Tiger Woods is to golf,” McMahan said.

Obama invited all Tuskegee airmen to his inauguration, praising the group for its historic service during WWII. The three men are among the 330 surviving Tuskegee Airmen.

McMahan agreed to fly the three airmen who live in Los Angeles after his partner, Dr. Stanley Saulny, informed him of the trio’s plight.

“I pondered for a few days on how to get these airmen to D.C.,” said Saulny, a Los Angeles-based opthamologist who works one day a week in Hattiesburg at McMahan’s Southern Eye Center.

Saulny said he thought of McMahan because he knew he owned a jet.

“Within one minute, he said, ‘Great, I’ll do it,”’ Saulny said of McMahan’s response. “There was no hesitation in agreeing to do this.”

Not only is McMahan agreeing to fly the airmen to Washington, but he also is paying their airfare from California to New Orleans on Sunday. And they will stay at his Hattiesburg home until they leave for Washington on Monday morning.

“I’m glad that I survived this long to be able to witness the inauguration,” said Higginbotham, 82, a retired orthopedic surgeon.