Commemorative Air Force Blogs

Welcome to the Commemorative Air Force Blogs. A great way to stay informed about what is going on with the CAF.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

Profiles of Tuskegee Airmen: Joe Gomer

Tuskegee Airman pilot Joe Gomer was born on June 20, 1920 in Iowa Falls, Iowa. The Gomer family was one of only two African American families in their small town. Growing up, he was fascinated by model airplanes and dreamed of becoming a pilot. He worked in his father’s janitorial business from the age of 12. 

 

Tuskegee Airman Joe Gomer 1Gomer and his brother Charles attended Iowa Falls High School, and in 1938 he was the school’s only African American in his graduating class. Sadly, his father passed away that same year. His community rallied together to help fund Gomer’s attendance at Ellsworth College to study pre-engineering. He earned his degree and continued on at the school to attend their flight training program, learning to fly in a pasture outside of town. 

 

As the United States marched into World War II, Gomer enlisted in the Army in July of 1942 at the age of 22. He applied for and was accepted into the new aviation cadet training program for African Americans at Tuskegee Army Airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama. He would become the first black officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps from the state of Iowa. 

 

After earning his wings in May of 1943 and completing all advanced training, Gomer deployed to Italy with the 332ndFighter Group of the 301stFighter Squadron. In combat, he flew 68 missions over Italy and Germany. He had several close brushes with danger, including a crash landing in a P-39, a lost canopy while flying a P-51 and survived being riddled by German bullets in a P-47. 

Even though he bravely served his country during the War, Gomer experienced the sting of racism, regardless of his status of military officer and World War II combat pilot. Leaving his hometown and traveling to Alabama, then around the world, Gomer came face to face with unjust and cruel treatment. Even in the theaters of War, Gomer and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen remained segregated from their white counterparts and were treated as inferior to German prisoners. 

 

After the War, Gomer married Elizabeth Caperton on March 12, 1949, and together they raised two daughters. He remained in the U.S. Air Force and became a helicopter pilot serving in Japan during the Korean War, then a nuclear weapons technician. In 1964 he retired with the rank of Major. He spent the next 21 years as a personnel officer for the U.S. Forest Service, retiring in 1985. He received a Superior Services Award from the Secretary of Agriculture for his outstanding work with minorities and women. 

Into his retirement, Gomer remained active even very late in his life, giving his time talking to school groups and at community events about the Tuskegee Airmen and the importance of education. “People can be anything they want to be now,” he said in a 2007 interview. “There is no glass ceiling. Education is the key.”

 

For his service as a Tuskegee Airman and community leader, Gomer was inducted into the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame in 2004. He received a Doctorate of Humanities from the Board of Trustees of Ellsworth College in 2004 and their Distinguished Alumni Award in 2009.

Gomer passed away in October in 2013. There are two statues in Iowa to honor his life and service located at Duluth International Airportand on thegrounds of Ellsworth College

 

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

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A look back at D-Day

“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. 

The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you.”

~ General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Commander, Operation Overlord

 

101st Loaded on D Day74 years ago today marks the tide that began to turn the War in Europe. D-Day, June 6, 1944, would mark the invasion that would drive the Nazis out of France, and eventually win back the continent from their tyrannical grip. All the efforts of the Allies in the months and years prior laid the groundwork for this mission, including the work of the Tuskegee Airmen in the European Theater. 

 

Before dawn on D-Day, 13,000 paratroopers leapt into darkness straight into enemy territory in Normandy, France, and an additional 5,000 would follow later that day. Naval and air forces bombarded Hitler’s Atlantic Wall off the coast. 156,000 Allied soldiers stormed the beaches from 5,000 ships and landing craft. This orchestrated attack on D-Day and the days that followed created a breach in the Nazi hold over the country. This allowed in mass amounts of troops, supplies and equipment that would press on into the occupied country, liberate Paris by August 25 and begin the end of World War II, marked by the surrender of the Nazis on May 8, 1945, Victory in Europe Day. 

 

Over 9,000 lives were lost in Operation Overlord, 4,000 of those on D-Day. Although no Tuskegee Airmen took part in this invasion, their work and that of other squadrons of the U.S. Army Air Forces, would play an important role in the success of this epic mission.

 

The Tuskegee Airmen were first deployed to combat in April of 1943, sent to French Morocco before moving on to Europe for missions over the Mediterranean, Italy and into the heart of action farter north. Missions included strafing targets on the ground, taking out surface targets like enemy ammunitions factories, fuel refineries and transportation routes. They provided close air support for ground troops and also escorted bombers on their precarious trips into the heart of Nazi territory in Germany to take out key targets. These missions would prepare for and support the tactics of Operation Overlord. 

 

More than seven decades have passed since these brave Americans took up arms to defend our country, and the freedom and dignity of all our Allied nations. The heroic men who fought their way into enemy territory on D-Day provided the catalyst to spark the beginning of the end of the War, and the missions of the Tuskegee Airmen and others made that success possible.

 

One of our fellow Commemorative Air Force units, the CAF D-Day Wing, is currently making preparations to take several CAF aircraft back to Normandy in June of 2019 to mark the 75thanniversary of D-Day, including the C-47 That’s All, Brother, the lead paratrooper transport aircraft on D-Day. Doug Rozendaal, CAF Red Tail Squadron P-51C Mustang pilot and Squadron Leader, has played an important role in the renovation of that remarkable aircraft. Learn more about their efforts at CAFDDayWing.org.

 

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

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Profiles of Tuskegee Airmen: Charles Dorkins

Tuskegee Airman Charles Dorkins USAAF portaitPhotographer, cinematographer and author Charles Dorkins was born December 16, 1922 in Baltimore, MD to Christopher and Athie Dorkins. 

He graduated from Tuskegee Army Air Field on March 11, 1945 part of class TE-45-A, trained to fly twin engine B-25 bombers as part of the 477th Bombardment Group. The bomber pilots and crew would never deploy as the War ended in the Pacific before they were sent overseas. 

 

During training, Dorkins was part of group of officers that was arrested for trying to gain entrance into a military officers club at Freeman Army Airfield in Indiana. The event would become known as the Freeman Field Mutiny, a non-violent act of protest that went on to become a treasured and landmark point in the burgeoning civil rights movement.

 

Early in 1945, the 477thwas moved twice, first to Kentucky, then to Indiana. It was here, at Freeman Army Airfield, that the group’s Commander, Col Robert Selway, created 2 clubs – segregating “trainees” from “instructors.” This distinction was a thinly-veiled disguise for the real purpose, which was to segregate the black officers, all of which were trainees, from the instructors who were white.

 

There had been issues with officers’ clubs in the past, but at Freeman Field the black officers took a stand, and ended up in the history books. Over the course of several days in April 1945, black officers, in small groups, tried to enter the white-only officers club, each time met with greater resistance. Eventually, 120 black officers who had tried to gain entrance were arrested. All would be released later that month, but it would be decades before they were fully exonerated for their protest. 

 

After the War, Dorkins relocated to New York City where, for more than 50 years, he worked as a filmmaker and photographer. His long and fruitful career included many milestones. 

 

Dorkins was part of a United Nations-sponsored project to promote cultural sharing around the world, where he had the opportunity to meet several world leaders. He produced an award-winning documentary in the early 1960s for NBC about the revolution in the then Belgian Congo, in which he lived with the revolutionaries and was injured. Other projects included a black film production of Hamlet shot in the Bahamas; a documentary about life in black neighborhoods of Detroit in the late 1960s at the height of the era’s racial tension; and a film about the Tuskegee Airmen. 

 

Dorkins passed away at the age of 95 on April 9, 2018. Thank you for your service to our country 2ndLt. Dorkins!

 

For a look into Dorkins life and service as a Tuskegee Airmen see these items in the CAF Red Tail Squadron Virtual Musuem:

 

Barracks photos of Tuskegee Airman Charles Dorkins

Official Air Corps documents of Tuskegee Airman Charles Dorkins

Flight suit and dress uniform of Tuskegee Airman Charles Dorkins

Photos of Tuskegee Airmen class TE-45-A

 

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

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Profiles of Tuskegee Airmen: William Armstrong

Tuskegee Airmen William ArmstrongIt is an unfortunately reality of war that oftentimes loved ones do not come home. No matter the skill or training, many service members of World War II perished in combat. William Armstrong did not live to see the Allies liberate Europe, but his efforts as a Tuskegee Airmen pilot, and citizen who stepped up to service his country, played a role in that success.

 

Born October 24, 1924 in Washington, DC, Armstrong was raised along with his sister Evelyn in the west end of Providence, RI by his mother, grandfather and stepfather. He excelled in academics, was a member of the student council and lent his beautiful tenor voice to the Episcopalian Church of the Saviour. His peers described him as handsome and outgoing.

 

After graduating from high school in 1943, Armstrong’s plans to pursue the education needed to become an attorney we derailed by the War. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and was accepted into the pilot training program in Tuskegee. He graduated with class 44-H-SE on September 8, 1944, earning his wings to fly single engine fighters against the enemy in Europe. Armstrong deployed with the 332ndFighter Group to Ramitelli, Italy shortly thereafter. 

 

During his time in theater, Armstrong flew bomber escort missions over Europe, protecting American bombers from enemy fire as they dropped their explosive payloads over targets deep within Nazi territory. The skill of Tuskegee Airmen like Armstrong to keep their bombers safe and able to complete their missions earned them the nickname “Red Tail Angels” and were requested by the bomber pilots to escort their missions, regardless of the color of the skin. This was a remarkable acknowledgement, considering the climate of racial injustice that existed in that era.

 

On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, just a month before victory would be declared in Europe, Armstrong’s squadron was engaged by German aircraft in an air battle over the skies of Austria while trying to return from a bombing raid which Armstrong and his fellow Airmen had provided escort protection. 12 German planes went down in that battle, as well as two American aircraft. Armstrong’s plane was hit, and he was killed in action, along with Tuskegee Airmen pilot Walter Manning in another plane. Armstrong’s body was unable to be recovered before the end of the war.

 

Due to the tenacity and insistence of his stepfather, Nelson Venter, Armstrong’s remains were located in a grave in Austria, and returned home in March of 1950 for burial in a family plot in Providence. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Air Medal and Presidential Unit Citation. 

 

The local VFW post of his hometown dedicated a memorial in his honor in 1946, but was eventually lost due to redevelopment in the area. He was inducted into the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame in 2009.In 2010, the William P. Armstrong Memorial Square was given a fresh update and re-dedicated with much local fanfare in Providence. 

 

In memory of the service and sacrifice of Flight Officer William Armstrong. 

 

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

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Attention Dallas metro area friends and supporters! We’re in Terrell!

Come see us in Terrell, Texas today through Sunday!

 

The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit mobile movie theater is the featured guest at the No. 1 British Flying Training School Museum, located at the Terrell Municipal Airport at 119 Silent Wings Blvd. in Terrell. The event is FREE and admission to the Museum is also FREE! Bring your friends and family!

 

The No. 1 British Flying Training School Museum was the first and largest of the training sites for British pilots during World War II. More than 2,000 Royal Air Force and U.S. Army Air Force pilots earned their wings after training in the skies over Terrell between 1941 and 1945. This gem is an important piece of World War II history, just a short drive from downtown Dallas!

 

Head on out to see our inspirational and educational film “Rise Above” inside our panoramic mobile movie theater and say hello to our team on site! We are always so happy to meet our supporters in person and hear about what makes YOU enthusiastic about the Tuskegee Airmen experience and sharing it with others. 

 

Want to schedule a time for your group? No problem. Call (972) 551-1122 to reserve your slot. 

 

See you in Terrell!

RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit flier

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

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