Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Tuskegee Airmen

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award presented by the U.S. Congress. It is awarded to an individual or group for an outstanding deed or act of service to the security, prosperity, and national interest of the United States.

This medal was presented to the Tuskegee Airmen, African American pilots flying for the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. Awarded on March 29, 2007, the medal recognized their "unique military record that inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces."

Physical Description:Tuskegee Airmen Congressional Gold Medal; Obverse: three profiles of a pilot wearing a leather flying helmet, ground mechanic wearing a billed cap; and pilot wearing a service cap; a soaring eagle depicted below the three profiles; raised letter text "TUSKEGEE AIRMEN" above profiles; Reverse: three starboard side aircraft profiles, Curtiss P-40 with "99" on fuselage; North American P-51D with "332" on fuselage, and North American B-25 with "477" on fuselage; raised letter text, "ACT OF CONGRESS, 2006, OUTSTANDING COMBAT RECORD INSPIRED REVOLUTIONARY REFORM IN THE ARMED FORCES".

What do you call men who faced discrimination, scorn, beatings and sometimes even death at the hands of their fellow countrymen, yet who stepped up to fight for the very country which ofttimes viewed them as second class citizens?

I don't know...

But if you ask me, the word "heroes" applies.

These men have always been in my pantheon of great warriors and true American heroes.
The only black air units that saw combat during the war were the 99th Pursuit Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group. The dive-bombing and strafing missions under Lieutenant Colonel Davis, Jr. were considered to be highly successful.

In May 1942, the 99th Pursuit Squadron was renamed the 99th Fighter Squadron. It earned three Distinguished Unit Citations (DUC) during World War II. The DUCs were for operations over Sicily from 30 May – 11 June 1943, Monastery Hill near Cassino from 12–14 May 1944, and for successfully fighting off German jet aircraft on 24 March 1945. The mission was the longest bomber escort mission of the Fifteenth Air Force throughout the war. The 332nd also flew missions in Sicily, Anzio, Normandy, the Rhineland, the Po Valley and Rome-Arno and others. Pilots of the 99th once set a record for destroying five enemy aircraft in under four minutes.

The Tuskegee Airmen shot down three German jets in a single day. On 24 March 1945, 43 P-51 Mustangs led by Colonel Benjamin O. Davis escorted B-17 bombers over 1,600 miles (2,600 km) into Germany and back. The bombers’ target, a massive Daimler-Benz tank factory in Berlin, was heavily defended by Luftwaffe aircraft, included Fw 190 radial propeller fighters, Me 163 "Komet" rocket-powered fighters and 25 of the much more formidable Me 262s, history’s first jet fighter. Pilots Charles Brantley, Earl Lane and Roscoe Brown all shot down German jets over Berlin that day. For the mission, the 332nd Fighter Group earned a Distinguished Unit Citation.

Individual pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group earned 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses. Their missions took them over Italy and enemy occupied parts of central and southern Europe. Their operational aircraft were, in succession: Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, Bell P-39 Airacobra, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and North American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft. - Wikipedia
Pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group at Ramitelli Airfield, Italy; from left to right,
Lt. Dempsey W. Morgan, Lt. Carroll S. Woods, Lt. Robert H. Nelron, Jr.,
Captain Andrew D. Turner, and Lt. Clarence P. Lester

Colonel Benjamin O. Davis Jr
Commanding Officer, 332nd Fighter Group, WWII
Commanding Officer, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, Korean War

Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr. (December 18, 1912 – July 4, 2002) was an American United States Air Force general and commander of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen.

He was the first African-American general officer in the United States Air Force. On December 9, 1998, he was advanced to four-star general by President Bill Clinton. During World War II, Davis was commander of the 99th and the 332nd Fighter Group, which escorted bombers on air combat missions over Europe. Davis himself flew sixty missions in P-39, Curtiss P-40, P-47 and P-51 Mustang fighters. Davis followed in his father's footsteps in breaking racial barriers, as Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. was the first African-American general in the United States Army. - Wikipedia
"Red Tail" P-51 of the 332nd
"INA The Macon Belle"

F-86 Sabres of the 51st FIW in Korea
Note the red band on the tails of all three aircraft.

Official portrait of Lieutenant General Davis, USAF

President George W. Bush presents the Congressional Gold Medal to Dr. Roscoe Brown Jr., during ceremonies honoring the Tuskegee Airmen Thursday, March 29, at the U.S. Capitol. Brown, Director of the Center for Urban Education Policy and University Professor at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York, commanded the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332 Fighter Group during World War II.

War accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen
In all, 992 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1941 to 1946. 355 were deployed overseas, and 84 lost their lives in accidents or combat. The toll included 68 pilots killed in action or accidents, 12 killed in training and non-combat missions and 32 captured as prisoners of war. The Tuskegee Airmen were credited by higher commands with the following accomplishments:

  • 1578 combat missions, 1267 for the Twelfth Air Force; 311 for the Fifteenth Air Force
  • 179 bomber escort missions, with a good record of protection, losing bombers on only seven missions and a total of only 27, compared to an average of 46 among other 15AF P-51 groups
  • 112 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air, another 150 on the ground and 148 damaged
  • 950 rail cars, trucks and other motor vehicles destroyed (over 600 rail cars)
  • One destroyer put out of action. The ship concerned had been classified as a destroyer (Giuseppe Missori) by the Italian Navy, before being reclassified by the Germans as a torpedo boat, TA 22. It was attacked on 25 June 1944. The German Navy decommissioned it on 8 November 1944, and finally scuttled it on 5 February 1945.
  • 40 boats and barges destroyed
Awards and decorations included:

  • Three Distinguished Unit Citations
  • 99th Pursuit Squadron: 30 May–11 June 1943 for actions over Sicily
  • 99th Fighter Squadron: 12–14 May 1944: for successful air strikes against Monte Cassino, Italy
  • 332d Fighter Group (and its 99th, 100th, 301st, and 302nd Fighter Squadrons): 24 March 1945: for a bomber escort mission to Berlin, during which it shot down 3 enemy jets
  • At least one Silver Star
  • 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses to 95 Airmen; Captain William A. Campbell was awarded two.
  • 14 Bronze Stars
  • 744 Air Medals
  • 8 Purple Hearts- Wikipedia
Ladies and gentlemen, here be fighter pilots!

The Tuskegee Airmen - Then...
... and Now

Tuskegee Airmen
(Charles Taylor)

The 99th lives on as the 99th Flying Training Squadron based at Randolph AFB, Texas.

The 99th Flying Training Squadron flies T-1A Jayhawks and they are in the process of painting
the tops of the tails of their aircraft red, in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen, the "Red Tails".


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Joe. Glad you liked it, those men were something else.

  2. The 'Bama ANG still celebrates the Red Tails. Or at least they did during the 100th anniversary of the Tuskegee Airmen... I don't know if they kept the paint jobs for ever and ever.

    1. You mean when the 100th Fighter Squadron joined the 187th right? (You had me convinced, for a moment, that WWII was a hundred years ago. I know it feels like that.)

      I couldn't find any news articles with good photos of recent vintage. I do know that the 187th deployed this past spring.

      The red tails look good on those -16s!

  3. When we visited New Orleans a couple of years ago, MY WIFE and I had opportunity to visit the great WWII museum in that city. And the day we visited, a talk was given by one of the Tuskegee Airmen. What an honor to shake that man's hand afterward!

    (I'm ashamed to say I can't recall his name now. A hero's name should never be forgotten.)

    1. Amazing. There are so few of them left. It's hard to remember names at times, especially when face to face with someone like that.

      While you're right that a hero's name shouldn't be forgotten, we do the best we can to honor their memories.


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Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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