The Tuskegee Airmen

The historic Tuskegee Airmen, heroes from World War II, will be the guests of an event in Rockford Feb 27th and 28th at the Veterans Memorial Hall, from 1:30 – 4:30pm.  Below is a short background on theses historic pilots of color who served their country with pride and honor.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators in the United States armed forces. During World War II, African Americans in many U.S. states were still subject to Jim Crow Laws. The American military itself was racially segregated. The Tuskegee Airmen were subject to racial discrimination, both within and outside the Army. Despite these adversities, they flew with distinction. They were particularly successful in their missions as bomber escorts in Europe.

Prior to the Tuskegee Airmen, no U.S. military pilots had been African American. A series of legislative moves by the United States Congress in 1941 forced the Army Air Corps to form an all-black combat unit, despite the War Department’s reluctance. In an effort to eliminate the unit before it could begin, the War Department set up a system to accept only those with a level of flight experience or higher education that they expected would be hard to fill. This policy backfired when the Air Corps received an abundance of applications from men who qualified even under these restrictive specifications, many of whom had already participated in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, which the historically-black Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) had participated in since 1939.

The black airmen who became single-engine or multi-engine pilots were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) in Tuskegee Alabama. The first aviation cadet class began in July 1941 and completed training nine months later in March 1942. Thirteen started in the first class. Five successfully completed the training, one of them being Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., a West Point Academy graduate. The other four were commissioned second lieutenants, and all five received Army Air Corps silver pilot wings.

From 1941 through 1946, nine hundred and ninety-four pilots graduated at TAAF, receiving commissions and pilot wings. Black navigators, bombardiers and gunnery crews were trained at selected military bases elsewhere in the United States. Mechanics were trained at Chanute Air Base in Rantoul, Illinois until facilities were in place in 1942 at TAAF.

Four hundred and fifty of the pilots who were trained at TAAF served overseas in either the 99th Pursuit Squadron (later the 99th Fighter Squadron) or the 332nd Fighter Group. The 99th Fighter Squadron trained in and flew P-40 Warhawk aircraft in combat in North Africa, Sicily and Italy from April 1943 until July 1944 when they were transferred to the 332nd Fighter Group in the 15th Air Force.

Flying escort for heavy bombers, the 332nd earned an impressive combat record. Reportedly, the Luftwaffe (German Airforce) awarded the Airmen the nickname, “Schwarze Vogelmenschen,” or “Black Birdmen.” The Allies called the Airmen “Redtails” or “Redtail Angels,” because of the distinctive crimson paint on the vertical stabilizers of the unit’s aircraft, the P-51 Mustang.

By the end of the war, the Tuskegee Airmen were credited with 112 Luftwaffe aircraft shot down, the German-operated Italian destroyer TA-23 sunk by machine-gun fire, and destruction of numerous fuel dumps, trucks and trains. The squadrons of the 332nd fighter group flew more than 15,000 sorties on 1,500 missions. The Tuskegee Airmen were awarded several Silver Stars, 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 8 Purple Hearts, 14 Bronze Stars and 744 Air Medals. Of the 450 pilots deployed overseas, 150 Airmen lost their lives in accidents or combat.

Advertisements

~ by daroldingram on February 24, 2010.

One Response to “The Tuskegee Airmen”

  1. Can you tell me how many Tuskgegee airmen are still living today.

    Thanks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: