February 09, 2012


Many of my friends in the US have been talking about George Lucas’s film, Red Tails, which chronicles The Tuskegee Airmen. Some have loved it. Others have not enjoyed it at all. It has not appeared in cinemas here, yet; so I have not seen it and will reserve judgment. Personally, I thought the 1995 made-for-TV PBS film, entitled The Tuskegee Airmen, was very good.

Nevertheless, the story of these extremely brave, African-American pilots, who fought in World War II, is spellbinding. I have also been fascinated by my friends’ recent photos postings of relatives, who were Tuskegee Airmen. Such rich memories.
The Tuskegee Airmen

First known as 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. Primarily made up of African-Americans, there were also five Tuskegee Airmen who were of Haitian descent.  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 Italy, before being deployed as bomber escorts in Europe, where they were particularly successful in virtually all their missions. 

Before the Tuskegee Airmen, no African-American had become a U.S. military pilot. In 1917, African-American men had tried to become aerial observers, but were rejected. However, Eugene Bullard, who was actually the first African-American fighter pilot, served as one of the members of the Franco-American Lafayette Escadrille. Nonetheless, he was denied the opportunity to transfer to American military units as a pilot when the other American pilots in the unit were offered the chance. Instead, Eugene returned to infantry duty with the French.

Eugene Bullard

The racially-motivated rejections of World War I African-American recruits sparked over two decades of advocacy by African-Americans – led by civil rights leaders – who wished to enlist and train as military aviators. Finally, on April 3, 1939, Appropriations Bill Public Law 18 was passed by Congress containing an amendment designating funds for training African-American pilots. Tuskegee Airmen refers to all who were involved in the so-called Tuskegee Experiment, the Army Air Corps program to train African-Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air. The military selected Tuskegee Institute, in Tuskegee, Alabama, to train pilots because of its commitment to aeronautical training. Tuskegee had the facilities, and engineering and technical instructors, as well as a climate for year round flying. The first Civilian Pilot Training Program students completed their instruction in May 1940. 

A further 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.
The Tuskegee Program began officially in June 1941 with the 99th Pursuit Squadron at the Tuskegee Institute. The unit consisted of 47 officers and 429 enlisted men, and was backed by an entire service arm. After basic training at Moton Field, they were moved to the nearby Tuskegee Army Air Field.

The budding flight program at Tuskegee received a publicity boost when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt inspected it in March 1941, and subsequently flew with African-American Chief Civilian Instructor, C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson. Anderson, who had been flying since 1929, and was responsible for training thousands of rookie pilots, took his prestigious passenger on a half-hour flight in a Waco Biplane. After landing, she cheerfully announced, "Well, you can fly, all right!"

Eleanor Roosevelt with 'Chief' Anderson

With African-American fighter pilots being trained 
successfully, the Army Air Force now came under political
 pressure from the NAACP and other civil rights organizations
 to organize a bomber unit.

In May 1943, the 616th Bombardment Squadron was 
established as the initial subordinate squadron of the 477th
Bombardment Group. The squadron was activated in July 
1943, only to be deactivated six weeks later. By September
of that year, the number of washed-out cadets on base had 
surged to 286, with few of them working. In January 1944,
the 477th Bombardment Group was reactivated.

In all, 996 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1941 to 1946,
approximately 445 were deployed overseas, and 150 Airmen
lost their lives in accidents or combat. The casualty toll 
included 66 pilots killed in action or accidents, and 32 fallen
 into captivity, as prisoners of war.

The Tuskegee Airmen were credited by higher commands 
with the following accomplishments:
  • 15,533 combat sorties, 311 missions
  • 112 German aircraft destroyed in the air, another 150 on the ground
  • 950 railcars, trucks and other motor vehicles destroyed
  • One destroyer sunk
  • A good record of protecting U.S. bombers, losing only 25 on hundreds of missions. 

After segregation in the military was ended in 1948, by 
President Harry S. Truman, with Executive Order 9981, the 
veteran Tuskegee Airmen found themselves in high demand 
throughout the newly-formed United States Air Force. Some 
taught in civilian flight schools, such as the black-owned 
Columbia Air Center in Maryland.

On November 6, 1998, President Clinton approved Public
Law 105-355, which established the Tuskegee Airmen
National Historic Site at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama,
to commemorate and interpret the heroic actions of the 
Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. The new site contains
a museum and interpretive programs at the historic complex
at Moton Field, as well as a national center based on a
public-private partnership.

President Clinton Receiving a Tuskegee Airmen Jacket from TA Vets

Today, Tuskegee Airmen Inc. (TAI), which is a non-profit organization, with 55 chapters in the United States, works to introduce young Americans to the world of aviation and science, through local and national programs such as Young Eagles and TAI youth programs and activities. It also provides educational assistance to students and awards to deserving individuals, groups and corporations whose deeds lend support to TAI's goals. TAI also supports the Tuskegee Airmen Award presented to deserving cadets in the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Program.

A Young Aviator

Tuskegee, Alabama is small town, with a population of approx. 12,000. Yet, its fame is great. Some of its famous sons, daughters and institutions are: Rosa Parks, Lionel Ritchie and The Commodores, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver and the aforementioned, Tuskegee Institute – now Tuskegee University, which was founded by Booker T. Washington.

In 1997, to honor the Tuskegee Institute, Carolyn Quick Tillery published the African-American Heritage Cookbook.  It is more than just a recipe collection. It also features personal vignettes, pictorial accounts, literary passages, and poetry from the University. Try this delicious Salmon Croquettes recipe, from the cookbook. Enjoy!

Salmon Croquettes
By Johnny Slaughter, adapted from The African-American Heritage Cookbook

(serves 6 to 8)

·        ¼  cup plus 2 Tbls butter
·        ½  cup plus 3 Tbls flour
·        1 cup heavy cream
·        1 ½  tsp. black pepper
·        ½  tsp. salt
·        1 cup dry bread crumbs
·        2 pounds fresh salmon, uncooked, sliced thinly
·        1 medium Vidalia onion, finely chopped
·        ¼  cup vegetable oil for frying
·        Parsley sprigs and lemon wedges for garnish

Blend ¼  cup butter and ½  cup flour in a bowl. Bring cream
to a boil in a small saucepan. Blend in butter and flour 
Remove from heat. Add pepper, salt, bread crumbs, and
salmon. Mix thoroughly and then spoon into a dish to cool. 
Meanwhile, place a large, heavy skillet over medium-high 
heat; add the remaining butter and sauté onion until 
transparent. Add contents of frying pan to the cooled salmon 
mixture. If the mixture appears dry, add additional cream. If 
it’s too soft, add additional bread crumbs.

Form into 6 to 8 patties; dust patties with the remaining flour. 
Fry patties in hot oil over medium heat until cooked through 
and golden, approximately10 minutes per side.
Garnish with parsley and lemon.
Sources: Wikipedia, Google, Bing, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc, Amazon.com, African-American Heritage Cookbook, Maryland Life

1 comment:

  1. again i have learned something new today thanks to your research!keep up the wonderful site,zena!