Heroes of WWII: The Tuskegee Airmen

heroes of WWII -

Heroes of WWII: The Tuskegee Airmen

Have you heard of the Tuskegee Airmen? They were the first black aviators in
the U.S. Army Air Corps, which would later evolve into the U.S. Air Force.
Trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, they undertook over 15,000
individual missions across Europe and North Africa during World War II. Their
remarkable achievements garnered them more than 150 Distinguished Flying
Crosses, and their prowess played a pivotal role in advocating for the eventual
integration of the U.S. armed forces.

The Rise of the Tuskegee Airmen

The era leading up to their rise was characterised by racial segregation,
particularly evident in the armed forces and society at large. The nation was
captivated by aviation heroes such as Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart,
prompting numerous young individuals, including African Americans, to aspire to
become pilots. However, deeply rooted racist beliefs propagated the notion that
black individuals were incapable of mastering flight and handling complex

President Franklin D. Roosevelt took steps to expand the civilian pilot
training programme in 1938, a time when racial segregation persisted not only
within the armed forces but also across the nation. Many military factions,
especially in the Southern regions, held prejudiced views of black soldiers,
assuming their inferiority in combat. Advocacy from civil rights groups like
the NAACP, bolstered by influential black newspapers like the Chicago Defender
and Pittsburgh Courier, urged for the inclusion of black Americans in the

The Tuskegee Experiment

The hidden potential of the Tuskegee Airmen began to emerge in September
1940 when President Roosevelt announced that the Army Air Corps would initiate
training for black pilots. The Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, situated
within the segregated Jim Crow South, was chosen as the training site. A
diverse cohort of, primarily college graduates, enrolled in the Tuskegee programme, encompassing not only pilots but also navigators, mechanics, instructors, and other support staff.

One standout figure was Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who was among the first
aviation cadet class in 1941. His remarkable background as a West Point
graduate and the son of Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis - one of only two black
officers (other than chaplains) in the U.S. military - further
highlighted the significance of this endeavour. The "Tuskegee
Experiment" gained momentum when Eleanor Roosevelt's visit in April 1941
led to increased publicity, thanks to a flight demonstration by Chief Flight
Instructor Charles "Chief" Anderson.
Image below: Various Tuskegee Airmen by a P-51 Mustang at Luke Field, around January or February 1946.

Alfonso Harris and Tuskegee Airmen - Flickr - San Diego Air ^ Space Museum Archives.jpg
By <a rel="nofollow" class="external text" href="https://www.flickr.com/people/49487266@N07">SDASM Archives</a> - <a rel="nofollow" class="external text" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/sdasmarchives/6550573797/">Alfonso Harris and Tuskegee Airmen</a>, No restrictions, Link

The Tuskegee Airmen in WWII

The Tuskegee Airmen ventured into combat in April 1943 when the 99th Pursuit
Squadron was deployed to North Africa. Operating P-40 planes, they engaged in
missions alongside their white counterparts. Facing initial scepticism about
their performance, the 99th eventually proved their capabilities and, after a
transfer to Italy, formed the 332nd Fighter Group. Operating P-51 Mustangs, the
iconic "Red Tails," they escorted heavy bombers into enemy territory.

Their legacy remains intertwined with their feats during WWII. Their accomplishments, however, were not devoid of challenges, as they contended with racial prejudice even upon returning home. Nevertheless, their contributions played an instrumental role in laying the groundwork for the integration of the U.S. Armed Forces. In 1948, President Harry Truman's Executive Order 9981 officially desegregated the military, establishing equality of opportunity and treatment.
Image below: Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., commander of the Tuskegee Airmen 332nd Fighter Group, in front of his P-47 Thunderbolt in Sicily.

Col Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr.jpg
By U.S. Air Force photo - <a rel="nofollow" class="external free" href="http://www.af.mil/shared/media/photodb/photos/070207-F-9999J-026.jpg">http://www.af.mil/shared/media/photodb/photos/070207-F-9999J-026.jpg</a> at <a rel="nofollow" class="external free" href="http://www.af.mil/photos/index.asp?galleryID=3309">http://www.af.mil/photos/index.asp?galleryID=3309</a>, Public Domain, Link

Key facts & figures

There were a total of 932 pilots who graduated from the programme. Among
these, 355 served in active duty during WWII as fighter pilots.
Sixty-six Tuskegee Airmen died in combat.

Overall, The Tuskegee Airmen destroyed 251 enemy airplanes and were
awarded a total of 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses for their service.

More than 10,000 black men and women served as support personnel to
the Tuskegee Airmen, including navigators, bombardiers, mechanics,
instructors, crew chiefs, nurses, and cooks.

There were approximately 15,000 trailblazers who were part of the
historic military flying programme to train black aviators.

Societal Impact of the Tuskegee Airman

The impact of the Tuskegee Airmen extended beyond their military service.
Several members, including Benjamin O. Davis Jr., George S. “Spanky” Roberts,
and Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., pursued extended careers in the military,
breaking down barriers and achieving historic milestones. Recognising their
significance, over 300 original Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional
Gold Medal in 2007 from President George W. Bush. Another testament to their
enduring legacy, surviving members attended the inauguration of President
Barack Obama, who acknowledged their pioneering efforts as instrumental in
shaping his own path of public service.
Image below: The Congressional Gold Medal was collectively presented to approximately 300 Tuskegee Airmen or their widows, at the U.S. Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C. by President George W. Bush on March 29, 2007.

Tuskegee Airmen + US Congressional Gold Medals, 2007March29.jpg
By White House photo by Eric Draper - <a rel="nofollow" class="external free" href="https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2007/03/images/20070329-6_d-0927-515h.html">https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2007/03/images/20070329-6_d-0927-515h.html</a>, Public Domain, Link

Check out the clip below from the 1995 movie 'The Tuskegee Airmen'.
Image below: Tuskegee Airman P-51C Mustang taken at Airventure.

Tuskegee Airman P-51 Mustang taken at Airventure.JPG
By <a href="//commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:6oclocklow&amp;action=edit&amp;redlink=1" class="new" title="User:6oclocklow (page does not exist)">6oclocklow</a> - <a rel="nofollow" class="external text" href="http://images.globalair.com/ganimages/generic/Warbirds/North%20American/Mustang/P-51/Exterior/red_tail_p51_OSH_e.jpg">Globalair.com image library</a>, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

1 comment

  • David Pollock

    What a Co incidence I just watched the movie last night, it’s one of my favourites, along with Hidden Figures it highlights the prejudices that the coloureds had to endure.

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