Little Known Black History Fact: The True Tuskegee Airmen

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    The Tuskegee Airmen were formed in 1941 in Tuskegee, Alabama. They would serve as the first black members of America’s Air Force. Among those enlisted one year later were Retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard R. Hall, Jr. and Retired Lieutenant Colonel Bob Hughes – a white man. The definition of a Tuskegee Airman is anyone who was a pilot, navigator or part of the support personnel during the Tuskegee Experience between 1941 and 1949. Bob Hughes was a trainer at the Tuskegee Army Air Field and there were more white documented airmen.

    The Tuskegee Airmen were the government’s answer to integration of the U.S. Military Air Force. The young pilots were trained through the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Then on September 16, 1940, the Selective Service and Training Service Act was passed by U.S. Congress which stated that all American males between the ages of 21 and 35 had to register for the draft. Because of Tuskegee Institute’s dedication to aviation, Tuskegee Institute was chosen to be the leader in aviation training. From the first class of 13 cadets, five earned their silver wings and became the nation’s first black military pilots: second lieutenants Lemuel R. Custis, Charles DeBow, Mac Ross, George Spencer Roberts and Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.  This group was the 99th Pursuit Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group.

    Black college students took notice of the Tuskegee Airmen training program, which graduated 932 pilots. But only 355 would deploy into actual duty as Tuskegee Airmen fighter pilots.

    It’s no secret that the U.S. military had difficulty integrating the Tuskegee Airmen. In one mission to fly from South Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico, the unit was not allowed to fly over Georgia or arm their weapons until they were across the Gulf of Mexico because they were black.

    The military continued to train new airmen until 1946, with women eventually entering the program.

    The Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) was presented to the Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen (DOTA) as a group and not as an individual recognition.
    The total number of Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen is between 16,000 and 19,000 individuals, which is anyone man or woman, military or civilian, black or white who were part of the Tuskegee Experience.

    The Tuskegee Airmen are known as the “Red Tails” because of the success of the four fighter squadrons (99th, 100th, 301st, & 302nd ) that operated under the 332nd fighter group flying the P-40 and later the P-51 with the tails painted red. There were also four bomber squadron (616th, 617th, 618th and 619th ) that flew the B-25 bomber but never deployed overseas during WWII.

    To bring notice to the lives and history of the Tuskegee Airmen, members of the prestigious group of individuals formed the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. organization.

    The Tuskegee Airmen Inc. is self-described as: a non-profit national organization, existing primarily to motivate and inspire young Americans to become participants in our nation’s society and its democratic process. Tuskegee Airmen Inc. is dedicated to keeping alive the history, achievements, and the importance of the original Tuskegee Airmen.

    According to the Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. more true facts about the Tuskegee Airmen include:

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