Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tuskegee Airmen

                    Our nation celebrated Martin Luther King Day this week; therefore, it seems only reasonable that I write something about segregation and the fight for civil rights.  Early screenings of a new film entitled "Red Tails" are about over, and the film will be released to the general public on January 20.  The film tells the story about the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American pilots to fly in a combat squadron in World War II.  Their job was to defend the United States bombers, and they did it through courageous and fearless air battles.  The film tells a fictionalized story inspired by a group of unsung heroes, and it stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard.  A movie trailer can be found here.  My husband and I are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the film in Anchorage.

Anchorage, Alaska, was selected as one site for the film screenings given to military due to the fact that the current 477th Fighter Group is based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.  The 477th Fighter Group is a "direct descendant of the 477 Bombardment Group in which the Tuskegee Airmen were training in B-25 bombers during World War II" according to Col. Bryan Radliff, commander of the 477th (Jonathan Grass, Anchorage Daily News, January 15, 2012). 
                    A documentary film entitled "The Tuskegee Airmen" was made in 1995 and was based on a true story.  I found it interesting that this film also stared Cuba Gooding Jr.  This 1995 film was about an "experiment" done in 1942 when a group of college graduates were selected for training as pilots in Army Air Corps at the Tuskegee training base.  The men faced prejudice from white officers who clearly wanted the experiment to fail, including their own major.  The men distinguished themselves and served their country with distinction and bravery.  A trailer for this film can be seen here. 

                    According to Wikipedia, "The Tuskegee Airmen is the popular name of a group of African American pilots who fought in World War II.  Formally, they were the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps.
                    "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 still were subject to the Jim Crow laws.  The American military was racially segregated, as was much of the federal government.  The Tuskegee Airmen were subject to racial discrimination, both within and outside the army.  Despite these adversities, they trained and flew with distinction.
                    "Although the 477th Bombardment Group `worked up' on North American B-25 Mitchell bombers, they never served in combat; the Tuskegee 332nd Fighter Group was the only operational unit, first sent overseas as part of Operation Torch, then in action in Sicily and Italy, before being deployed as bomber escorts in Europe where they were particularly successful in their missions.
                    "The Tuskegee Airmen initially were equipped with Curtiss P-40 Warhawks fighter-bomber aircraft, briefly with Bell P-39 Airacobras (March 1944), later with Republic P-47 Thunderbolts (June-July 1944), and finally the fighter group acquired the aircraft with which they became most commonly associated, the North American P-51 Mustang (July 1944).  When the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted the tails of their P-47's red, the nickname `Red Tails' was coined.  Bomber crews applied a more effusive `Red-Tail Angels' sobriquet."

                    The Tuskegee Airmen trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field, which was located at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama; it was the training center for all black fighter pilots.  There were 996 original Airmen, including pilots, bombardiers, and navigators, and there were nearly ten times as many black men and women serving them on the ground as mechanics, medical technicians, administrative support, and cooks.   
                    There were 450 Airmen who served combat missions overseas in Europe, North Africa, and the Mediterranean, flying 15,533 sorties in the two years between May 1943 and June 1945.  They destroyed 251 enemy aircraft, sank a German destroyer, and disabled more than 600 box cars, locomotives and rolling stock.  They earned more than 850 medals.  The group saw 33 Airmen become prisoners of war and 66 die in combat.

                    Their greatest accomplishment is shown in these words by Master Sgt. Merrie Schilter Lowe in an August 1995 article in Air Force News Service:  "They battled Nazism and Fascism in the skies over North Africa and Europe, and racism on the ground back in the United States.  They painted the tails of their P-51s bright red, and names like `Hammerin' Hank,' `Creamer's Dream,' and `"Mo" Downs' on the sides of their aircraft.  But what really made the Tuskegee Airmen distinct was the fact that they never lost a bomber during some 200 escort missions during World War II."  

                    According to Wikipedia, there is some controversy over the escort record.  "… The Air Force conducted a reassessment of the history of the unit in late 2006.  The subsequent report, based on after-mission reports filed by both the bomber units and Tuskegee fighter groups, as well as missing air crew records and witness testimony, document 25 bombers shot down by enemy fighter aircraft while being escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen."

                    The Tuskegee Airmen had to fight for the right to fly airplanes.  They faced great prejudice and discrimination before they were able to prove themselves.  In the end, bomber crews were requesting Red Tails to escort them on missions.

                    In spite of the fact that their record may not be perfect, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen is just one of many examples that show that all of us - no matter our race, creed, religion, etc. - are all children of our Heavenly Father and fully capable of great deeds.

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