It took more than 60 years, but arguably one of the most effective fighter squadrons of World War II is getting the formal recognition that matches its historic and cultural impact. Members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black P-51 group that protected B-17 bombers over Europe, on Thursday were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony attended by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and President George Bush. But while aviation buffs know well the remarkable record of the squadron (the claim that it never lost a bomber has been disputed), the impact of their wartime exploits is considered by many to have had a much more profound impact on the country they served. "They were bold in battle and capable in command -- at a time when many in the military thought blacks could be neither," wrote The Washington Post. Charles McGee, who flew a P-51 he called "Kitten," told the Post that the successful deployment of the squadron had far-reaching effects. "What we accomplished hasn't always been recognized for, really, what it meant to the country," McGee said. "There was meaning there, you might say, in a civil rights area that preceded what we know as the civil rights movement."