George Mills Boyd, Former Tuskegee Airman
Commander, Kansas Wing of the Civil Air Patrol
During World War II and due to the rigid pattern of segregation that prevailed in the United States, the training of black military aviators was concentrated at an isolated, specially constructed Army airfield near Tuskegee Institute, Alabama.
Four hundred and fifty black fighter pilots, under the command of Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., fought in the aerial war over North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Southern France, and Europe flying P-40, P-39, P-47 and P-51 aircraft. The 99th Fighter Squadron was joined by the 100th, 301st and 302nd Fighter Squadrons comprising the 332nd Fighter Group.
The Fighter Group was called, “The Schwarze Vogelmenchen” (black airmen) by the German Luftwaffe and “Red Tails” by US crews. It never lost a single under its escort cover to enemy air action during over 300 strategic bombardment operations all over the European continent.
The four squadron Fighter Group, each with 18 aircraft totaling 72-fighter planes, destroyed conventional and jet enemy aircraft in the air and on the ground. The Group sank one destroyer and eliminated many other enemy targets.
Sixty-six pilots were killed in action and 32 were shot down and became prisoners of war. The pilots came home with many decorations, including the Presidential Unit Citation, the French Croix-de Guerre and the Red Star of Yugoslavia.
Not to be forgotten; are the contributions of skilled, dedicated mechanics, armorers, ordnance handlers, and seldom mentioned medical and administrative personnel. Many of these ground personnel were among the war combat casualties.
While the conflict in Europe was raging, other black air crews and maintenance personnel were being trained as the 477th Medium (B-25) Bombardment Group, composed of the 616th, 617th, 618th and the 619th Squadrons. The surrender of Germany and Japan precluded the commitment of the 477th to combat overseas; however, the group fought an equally important social conflict here in the United States where race hatred, prejudice and discrimination had grown to incredibly dangerous levels during the greatest war ever experienced by mankind.
The Tuskegee Airmen’s persistent and unrelenting resistance to segregation by high military and political officials, was one part of the total effort leading to follow-on civil rights movements. The determined efforts by the Tuskegee Airmen to end discrimination while on active duty were marked by many board hearings, dishonorable discharges, reprimands, trials, harassment, degradation. and retaliation.