"Red Tails" memorializes Tuskegee Airmen, Arizona war hero

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SUN CITY, Ariz. -- An Arizona war hero who broke racial boundaries during World War II will be honored this Martin Luther King Day weekend, and in a new feature film.

Retired Lt. Col. Bob Ashby was consultant on the new George Lucas film, "Red Tails," which tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the U.S. Army Air Corps first African American squadron.

"Within a short period of time, we're going to be gone," Ashby said from his Sun City West home.

Now 85, Ashby learned to fly fighter planes before he learned how to drive a car. He and others fought to become the Tuskegee Airmen in the mid-1940's.

"They assumed the program would fail. That was our incentive as cadets, to make sure the program did not fail," Ashby said.

The Tuskegee Airmen earned a nearly perfect safety record, but struggled to integrate. Lt. Col. Ashby's first mission was with an unwelcoming all-white unit in occupied Japan.

"They took one look at me and told me to go back to the barracks...because I was black."

Ashby stuck with the military, and spent decades flying after the war. He was a commercial pilot with United Airlines, and then became the first black pilot for Frontier Airlines.

Today, his work centers around preserving the Tuskegee legacy. Several of the Airmen consulted on the George Lucas film "Red Tails," due in theaters January 20th. It chronicles the struggles and accomplishments of the Airmen in a time of war and racial segregation.

"I'm eager to see it, but concerned that they really show how we accomplished things and how we affected the country," said Ashby, who hopes audiences are wowed by both the special effects and the history.

President Obama and the first lady will be among those viewing "Red Tails" this weekend. The first couple will host surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen along with members of the movie's cast and crew for a private screening at the White House.