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The Tuskegee Airman Story

Due to the rigid pattern of racial segregation that prevailed in the United States during World War II, over 1300 Black military aviators were trained at an isolated training complex near the town of Tuskegee, Alabama and at Tuskegee Institute now known as Tuskegee University. Four hundred and fifty black fighter pilots under the command of Col Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., (who was later to become the U.S. Air Forces first black general) fought in the aerial war over North Africa, Sicily and Europe flying in secession, P-40, P-39, P-47 and P-51 type aircraft.

These gallant men flew 1,553 sorties and completed 1578 missions with the 12th Tactical U.S. Army Air Force and the 15th Strategic Army Air Forces. They were called the 'Schwartze volelmenschen" (Black Birdmen) by the Germans who both feared and respected them. White American bomber crews reverently referred to them as "The Redtail Angels" because of the identifying red paint on their nose and tail assemblies and because of their reputation for not losing bombers to enemy fighters as they provided fighter escort to bombing missions over strategic targets in Europe.

The 99th Fighter Squadron which had already distinguished itself over North Africa, Sicily, and Anzio, was joined with three more black squadrons; the 100th, the 301st, and the 302nd to be designated as the 332nd Fighter Group. Flying from Italian bases they also destroyed enemy rail traffic, coast watching surveillance stations and hundreds of vehicles on air to ground strafing missions. Sixty-six of these pilots were killed in aircraft accidents or in aerial combat while another thirty-two were shot down and captured as prisoners of war. They destroyed or damaged over 409 German aircraft, (111 in the air) over 950 units of ground transportation, and Gwynn Pierson leading a flight of four P-47's sank a destroyer with machine gun fire, which was a distinctive achievement. Not one friendly bomber was lost to enemy aircraft attack during the 200 escort missions. This success was unique because no other fighter unit with nearly as many missions could make the same claim.

On March 24, 1945, Roscoe Brown, Charles Brantly and Earl Lane, each shot down a German ME-262 jet fighter aircraft. These Black Airmen came home with 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Legion of Merit, 744 Air Medals,8 Purple Hearts, 2 Soldiers Medals,14 Bronze stars,and a Red Star of Yugoslavia. In January 1944 the Army Air Forces reluctantly formed the 477th Bombardment Group.(Medium) The men in the War Department and in major command positions in the Air Forces did not want the Tuskegee Airmen in the Army Air Forces. The bigoted men at the top gave full support to Major General Frank O.D. Hunter, Commander of the First Air Force and Colonel Robert R. Selway the commander of the 477th Bombardment Group as these two men conspired to insult and degrade the black officers of the 477th. As a results of the myriad of problems caused by segregation and poor leadership this group never saw combat. A final act on April 5, 1945 resulting in the arrest of 162 black officers and effectively destroyed the Group.

Nearly thirty years of anonymity was ended in 1972 with the founding of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc in Detroit, Michigan. Organized as a non-military and non-profit national entity, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., (TAI), exist primarily to motivate and inspire young Americans to become participants in our nation’s society and its democratic process. With 53 chapters located in major cities through out the United States and Europe, the membership of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., is made up principally, of armed forces veterans and active duty personnel representing all branches of the military. It also includes a growing number of civilians who demonstrate sincere interest in enhancing the goals and objectives of the organization. All the officers and directors of the organization serve without salary or fees. TAI’s National Scholarship Fund and its Detroit Museum Project are currently the National Organization’s highest priority programs. In 2009 over $55,000.00 in scholarship grants were awarded across the nation, to 36 young men and women, who were pursuing careers in aviation or aerospace. The Detroit Chapter Museum Project funded from TAI’s 53 Chapters is located in the historic Fort Wayne area and serves as TAI’s repository for its archives and memorabilia. Major achievements are attributed to many of those who returned to civilian life and earned positions and respect as business men, corporate executives, religious leaders, lawyers, doctors, bankers, educators and political leaders.


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