Even though much publicity and media have rightly recognized the valor and accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen, I continue to be in awe of these young black aviators of WW2 who lit up the skies with the flashes of their machine guns and exploding Luftwaffe aircraft, and raked German defense lines on the ground as the Allies drove the Germans northward through Italy to final surrender.
Last evening I watched a film titled “Hart’s War,” which was both unsettling, yet revealing. I won’t give any spoilers, except to say the setting is a German POW camp, filled with American soldiers, all white – until two captured Tuskegee aviators are brought in. The film revealed just how deep the gulf was between whites, especially from the south, and blacks in the military. The military was just a part of the larger racist society of that time (not to say America is still not racist in so many ways).
I had the pleasure of shaking the hand of one of the last Tuskegee airmen just a few years ago, and tried to tell him in a few seconds that my father was a bomber pilot and that he recalled being escorted by the Tuskegee airmen fighters. I don’t think the old gentleman really caught what I was trying to say, and other people were waiting to shake his hand, so I couldn’t say also, “Thank you for keeping my father safer.”
The P-51 Mustangs in the caption photo are planes preserved from the WW2 era, painted with red tails that was the “calling card” of the Tuskegee, 332nd Fighter Group, based in the southeastern coastal area of Italy. From there theses brave fighter jocks flew many missions covering bombers flying out of the “USS Corsica” (the island of Corsica), and later from bases in Italy, as the 12th Air Force plastered the Nazis, cutting supply lines, hitting fuel dumps, taking out major gun emplacement, knocking out flak artillery, and mowing down German troops with frags.
My father flew 70 missions as a B-25 pilot, doing all of the above, and many of his Wing went down, a number captured, a number murdered by Germans shooting them as they dropped in their parachutes after their plane was hit by flak, and some murdered by the Nazi SS. The Redtails I know were his cover on a number of missions, and were it not for that, I may not myself be here writing this, for he might have also made the ultimate sacrifice.
Now, it must be understood, that these valiant fighter jocks were doing their duty, in spite of the fact that back home in April, 1945, others of the Tuskegee group who were still training for air combat, could not enter and partake at an officers club in the Midwest. Over 100 of these black officers attempted to enter the club and were ultimately arrested. Due to outside protest, the Army dropped charges against most, but some were not cleared until the 1990’s!
But, in spite of all this, you can bet that not one Redtail pilot hesitated to push his gun button when he saw an ME-109 sliding in to target one of our bombers full of white men of the same age, many of whom would not even eat at the same table with him.
Think about that.