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.

A salute to CAF Red Tail Squadron founding member John Schuck

Bringing an aircraft to life, after decades of neglect and exposure to the elements, is a formidable task. The great excess of time, expertise, funds and parts needed to make this kind of dream a reality are in short order. Through sheer grit and determination, members of the Commemorative Air Force have pulled off this miracle time and again, rescuing heaps of scrap from the junkyard to return to flight, an ultimate honor to the heroes of World War II that flew and maintained these majestic warbirds.

Pic threeCAF member John Schuck shares his part in the spectacular resurrection of the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s own P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen in his book There They Go. By all accounts, the memoir is a beautiful tale of one American’s love of aircraft, service to country and dedication to remembrance. Because of the good will of CAF members like Schuck, future generations will be able to see, hear and feel an important piece of history.

For the P-51 enthusiast, Schuck’s book recounts in great detail the humble beginnings of the restoration of the aircraft that would become the centerpiece of the CAF Red Tail Squadron. As with most things in life, the path was neither easy nor straight.

Schuck first encountered the aircraft that would become the CAF’s signature “red tail” in 1974 in a hangar at Crystal Airport in Minneapolis. It’s owner at the time had dubbed it the S&S Special and intended on modifying it for high performance at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, although that never came to fruition.

“It was 1974 when I first saw the CAF P-51C. It was a collection of parts with a relatively complete fuselage and wings…. Little did I think that restoring this aircraft was to be the prime focus of my CAF involvement. It was in the goals section of my application for membership in 1975.”

~ John Schuck

There They Go

Schuck attempted to help facilitate a restoration between the owner and another private investor, to no avail. The steep cost of warbird ownership, restoration and maintenance is a tough sell. 

The aircraft was eventually donated to the CAF, stored first at CAF’s old Rebel Field in Mercedes, TX, then assigned to the CAF Great Planes Wing in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1983. Still a “bucket of bolts,” the plane was assigned to the CAF Minnesota Wing in 1988.

An important side note, the aircraft had been used stateside as a trainer during World War II, and after was designated surplus. It sat on static display at Montana State College (now Montana State University) for nearly 40 years.

When the P-51 came to the CAF Minnesota Wing, where Schuck was an avid and active member, the plane had found a home in which to recuperate and be nurtured to flight once again. It was here the decision was made to restore the plane in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen who had shown great success in the airframe as America’s first black military pilots in World War II. A vision was born, and the Red Tail Project, the precursor to the CAF Red Tail Squadron, would make its debut.

Shuck put in much research and effort to drum up support for the concept and was the main support driver for the program. Finally, in 1992, the Wing was able to shift their focus to the project. At this time, the Tuskegee Airmen were still relatively unknown, so the time was ripe to not only restore a legendary warbird, but also help bring an important piece of American history to the mainstream.

Other CAF Minnesota Wing members involved with the project’s concept and fundraising were Doug Rozendaal, Doug Olson, Robert Granvin, Jeff Keopp, Larry Daudt. Several folks outside of the CAF lent their support and volunteer service as well, including Dr. Rita Boags.

Original Tuskegee Airman Kenneth Woffard became involved in the project giving his guidance, as would many other Tuskegee Airmen as the years progressed. In 1998, Don Hinz became the first flying sponsor of the aircraft and took the reigns to lead the program from Schuck, financially backing the completion of the restoration. Hinz most notably laid out a roadmap to bring the lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen into every classroom in America.

The aircraft was named Tuskegee Airmen and made its first debut flight in May 2001, an instant hit on the airshow circuit. Tragically, Hinz passed away in 2004 from injuries sustained in an engine malfunction in the P-51C, yet the mission prevailed, and the aircraft took to the skies again, a testament to the supporters of this fine program.

Like Schuck, CAF members around the country are filled with a zeal for service and remembrance. Without their selfless dedication, many historic relics would have fallen by the wayside. John Schuck personifies the spirit of the founding vision of the CAF Red Tail Squadron. He holds an important place in our own history book, and we owe him hearty thanks for playing a significant role in the formation of what today is the CAF Red Tail Squadron.

There They Go is available on Amazon.

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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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Read a student’s interview of Tuskegee Airman Harry Stewart!

As the go-to resource for accurate information about the Tuskegee Airmen, and the premier provider of free, easily accessible educational content, the CAF Red Tail Squadron is happy to help accommodate the many special requests we get.

Recently, a high school student in New Jersey contacted us regarding his project to interview survivors of the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean War. He really wanted to learn from one of the Tuskegee Airmen, and luckily we were able to put him in touch with Tuskegee Airman Harry T. Stewart.

Read an expert form their interview with will be used in this student’s final work!

 

Q: What is your full name? What date and where were you born?

A: Harry T. Stewart, Jr., born July 4, 1924 in Newport News, VA

 

Q: Do you remember growing up during the Depression? What were things like for you and your family?

A: Yes, I remember the depression very well. I grew up in the borough of Queens in New York City. My father was a Postal Clerk, so we did not suffer financially.

 

Q: Did you ever face racism while growing up? Did this impact you personally?

A: My neighborhood and schools were fully integrated, but there was subtle racism.

 

Q: Did you go to school? Would you notice others suffering because of the Depression?

A: I went to public schools in Queens. I was very conscious of people in the community suffering from the Depression.

 

Q: When did you decide to join the military and why did you join?

A: All able-bodied males between the ages of 18 and 38 were subject to involuntary conscription. I volunteered by taking a qualifying examination to ensure my training to become a pilot.

 

Q: Where did you go to boot camp? What was your training like?

A: My pilot training started in March of 1943 at Tuskegee Army Air Field, Alabama. The training was very rigorous.

 

Q: Were you assigned to any particular fighting groups, divisions during the war?

A: Yes. I was assigned to the 301st Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group in Italy.

 

Q: When were you sent overseas? Were you excited?

A: I was sent overseas in November 1944. Yes, I was very excited.

 

Q: Were you in any particular battles during the war? Did you shoot down any enemy aircraft?

A: I flew 43 combat missions and shot down 3 enemy aircraft.

 

Q: When you joined the military was that the first time you saw an aircraft, or had you seen them before the War?

A: I grew up near an airport that had seen some military planes, but I never flew in a plane until I went into the military service.

 

Q: Did you come from a military family?

A: No!

 

Q: Do you remember when the War ended? What was your reaction to this?

A: The war in Europe ended in May of 1945. I was still in Italy. I wanted to go to the Pacific combat zone, but the war ended there in August 1945.

 

Q: Did you earn any specific medals during the war for your participation? If so could you list these medals?

A: Yes! I received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with seven Oak Leaf Clusters.

 

Q: Did you stay in the military after the War? If so what was the military like after the War?

A: I was discharged from the service January 1950.

 

Q: Do you remember the civil rights movement? Did this impact you in any way? Can you describe it?

A: Yes, I remember the civil rights movement very much. I attended the first March on Washington. It was a very meaningful time for the nation.

Learn more about Harry Stewart in the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s Profiles of Tuskegee Airmen!

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: Dr. Harold Brown

Profiles of Tuskegee Airmen: Dr. Harold Brown

Dr. Harold Brown has been generous with his guidance and support for the CAF Red Tail Squadron. As our RISE ABOVE Red Tail program has evolved over the years, he has provided direction to program leaders, spoken in person many times to our audiences, and even hosted the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit in his hometown. This gracious American hero continues to exemplify the attitude and passion that surely made him a top notch original Tuskegee Airmen as well.

A native of Minneapolis, Minn., Dr. Brown’s personal history is full of remarkable points of interest… and inspiration. As a child he dreamed of being a pilot, even though at the time black men were regarded as incapable of flying for the military. With the advent of the flight-training program at the Tuskegee Institute in 1941, Dr. Brown got his chance to fly and graduated from the program in 1944, earning a spot in the famed 332nd Fighter Group. You can read more about his thoughts and experiences with the P-51 on our blog.

This gift of flight was not without its struggles. “Purposeful and malicious roadblocks were set before us to cause our failure,” recalls Dr. Brown. “Not just me, but it’s what the entire group had to overcome to accomplish our goals. It is significant, and young people today can learn from it. Find your passion, find what you love. Set goals and go after them with your whole heart. That’s the best way to find success. That’s how we overcame our obstacles to become Tuskegee Airmen.”

During his time in combat, Dr. Brown completed ground and combat missions, strafing targets on the ground and protecting bombers in the air. On his 30th mission, Dr. Brown was shot down over enemy territory, bailing out of his badly damaged P-51 and being taken as a POW. For six weeks he was kept captive, the possibility of losing his life staring him starkly in the face. Dangers surrounded him – interrogations, friendly fire, forced to walk from one POW camp to another – a perilous journey until his liberation by Allied forces.

But the years in WWII do not fully define Dr. Brown. His many successes after the war illustrate his passion for education and community service. Dr. Brown went on to earn a Ph.D., retiring from Columbus State Community College as Vice President of Academic Affairs.

These remarkable experiences are the subject of a forthcoming book co-authored with Dr. Marsha Bordner, Dr. Brown’s wife, and also an education professional, who retired as president of Terra Community College in Fremont, Ohio.

“This is the story of a genuine American hero, and the Tuskegee Airmen were exactly that,” said Dr. Bordner. “The book we are writing is an in-depth look at Harold’s life – his ancestors, his life before flight training, the war years and his later accomplishments. There’s much to learn from his life. His time in the Strategic Air Command during the Cuban Missile Crisis, his time in the education system, and other life experiences will serve as an example of how one can persevere in a world not friendly or accommodating to their dreams.”

At 91 years’ young, Dr. Brown still graciously volunteers his time to share with others the important history of the Tuskegee Airmen, speaking to groups around the country. “If I accepted every request to speak, I’d be busy seven days a week!” said Dr. Brown, chuckling at the prospect. “I still get out there because it’s essential to reach children and let them know that they all face problems, but they should never give up. There are a lot of parallels to the Tuskegee Airmen, and we need to help them understand that.”

The life story of Tuskegee Airmen Harold Brown is currently in the process of being published. Keep your eyes on this blog for news about when and where it will be available.

To Dr. Brown, you are our kind of celebrity and we admire your bravery and accomplishments. Your life’s service and work continue to be an inspiration to us all; we appreciate your enthusiasm to help the CAF Red Tail Squadron share this important piece of American history.

RISE ABOVE!

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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CAF Red Tail Squadron shares experience and friendship at the CAF Wing Staff conference

CAF Red Tail Squadron shares experience and friendship at the CAF Wing Staff conference

Each year, the headquarters of the Commemorative Air Force hosts an event for their unit leaders and members as way for all to share ideas and build connections – CAF Wing Staff! This year’s event was also filled with many touching moments that swelled the hearts of all in attendance.

Everywhere you looked, old friends greeted each other, and first timers were quickly welcomed to the fold. There is simply no escaping the fact that what draws members to the CAF is their love and respect for vintage military aviation, but it’s the PEOPLE – their passion for the cause and their dedication to one another – that is absolutely the backbone of this worthy organization and why they stay for upwards of 30 years.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron team was proud to be asked to share our unique brand of inspiration with other CAF units. LaVone Kay, Marketing Director, Marvona Welsh, Logistics Coordinator, and Darcy Castro, PR and Communications Coordinator, presented a session to event attendees that gave creative ideas to integrate veterans into CAF unit events. Bill Shepard, Squadron Leader and CAF VP of Education, held a session that gave a look at upcoming ways units will be able to apply educational outreach programs in their areas. The spirit of collaboration was strong and everyone – the Squadron included – walked away with exciting ideas of how to inject these invigorating ideas into their own missions!

One of the highlights of the event was the CAF Hall of Fame Awards, where four members were recognized for their accomplishments and outstanding contributions to the organization over the decades they have been faithful members. Two of the recipients were represented by their spouses, as they were posthumously inducted. It was difficult to find a dry eye in the house.

At the close of the event yesterday, it was apparent that there are a LOT of CAF units doing a LOT of interesting and exciting things (not to mention the big plans in store for the new CAF National Air Base at Dallas Executive Airport!). It was an honor to attend an event that afforded the Red Tail Squadron team the opportunity to not only share our strengths with others, but to learn about and apply lessons from some really great projects taking place at units around the county.

We are proud to be a part of the CAF family!

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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Portraits of Tuskegee Airmen: Luther Smith

Portraits of Tuskegee Airmen: Luther Smith

Character. What we do with what we’ve been given. What we do in the face of adversity. What we do when times are good, and bad. In the profile of Capt Luther Smith – original Tuskegee Airman, engineer, patent-holder, community servant and father – we are given a great example of this valuable trait.

Smith’s dreams of flight began early in childhood. He held them tight, even when everyone around him and the constructs of society at the time seemed to make that dream an impossible reality. But Smith believed in the power of preparation… to be ready just in case circumstances may change and an opportunity could present itself.

Screen Shot 2016 02 05 at 4.46.12 PMAs an 11-year-old growing up in Iowa, Smith found $5 in a field used it to buy a ride in an airplane for him and his younger brother. The experience had him hooked on aviation. The tenacious young man would walk five miles everyday to the airport where he made himself useful to anyone that would have him, planning to learn all he could and one day get a seat in the cockpit. The local paper even wrote a story on him. By 1940, he had earned his pilot’s license, becoming one of the first black Americans to do so.

He didn’t stop there. Smith was determined to fly in the military, even though the U.S. Army Air Corps did not allow African Americans to serve as pilots, regardless of experience and ability. He made sure he was prepared anyhow.

When he was a student at the University of Iowa studying engineering, he knew that military pilots needed a minimum two years of college education, so to advance his chances he made sure to check that box. And as fate would have it, the Air Corps created the flight-training program at the Tuskegee Institute, and Smith went on to earn his wings in the program.

Unfortunately, the challenges of being a black in a time of severe racial prejudice and discrimination in our country did not evaporate when he became an officer and fighter pilot, volunteering to fight for our country in WWII. In fact, when he was en route to being deployed overseas, he was refused entry to a movie theater – a stark reminder of the tremendous obstacles yet to overcome.

Smith’s service with the 332nd Fighter Group included 133 combat missions within eight months, destroying two German aircraft in air and 10 in ground strafing attacks. On his final mission, Smith’s aircraft was heavily damaged and he bailed out over Yugoslavia, where he was taken captive as a POW for seven months. He was badly injured and emaciated by the time Allied forces liberated him, and endured a further two years of recovery stateside. He earned numerous commendations for his service and sacrifice, but his career as a military aviator came to a grinding halt, bringing Smith an early retirement and at the doorstep of starting over again.

After completing his degree, he went on to become the first African-American aerospace engineer for GE’s Missile and Space Operations, and served the company for the entire 38-year span of his career. He consulted with NASA, developed patents, earned a Master’s degree and helped the Navy create silent submarines. All of this from a man that GE didn’t initially want to even interview – a decorated war hero, well educated, determined – because of the color of his skin.

“His professional accomplishments after the war were groundbreaking for our society,” said his daughter Deborah Smith. “My father is unique, but of the Tuskegee Airmen that survived the war, it’s impressive to look at what they’ve achieved in their lives, coming from a relatively small group. It’s a testament to these men and the talent they had that would have otherwise been overlooked.”

It wasn’t until much later in life that Smith spoke publicly about his experiences as a Tuskegee Airmen, and when he did it was captivating. “In the year 2000 my father made one of his first speeches about his service in the war and it was the first time I heard him speak of it in much detail,” recalls his son, Gordon Smith. “The Tuskegee Airmen, like my father, share a common trait of determination and perseverance, and their success underscores these qualities. They are the perfect example of not letting incredible institutional barriers get in the way. It’s the kind of model you would want to provide for any young person. He delivered that message in a very impactful way to the audiences he spoke to.”

Smith honorably served on the jury that chose the design for the National WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. At the groundbreaking ceremony, he spoke about his time serving our country, and earned the praise of then president Bill Clinton, whom he also accompanied to Europe to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII. For his service, outstanding career and commitment to his community, Smith received much recognition, including an honorary doctorate from Tuskegee University in 2006.

Capt Luther Smith passed away in 2009 at the age of 89. He remains a vivid reminder of the Tuskegee Airmen’s ability to rise above the obstacles set before them to triumph over adversity. He fought the enemy abroad and racism at home. His inspirational life story is one not only of determination, but great success. We salute you sir.

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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CAF names Red Tail Squadron’s Bill Shepard their new VP of education

CAF names Red Tail Squadron’s Bill Shepard their new VP of education

Recently the Commemorative Air Force, the parent organization of the CAF Red Tail Squadron, announced that Bill Shepard has been named their Vice President of Education. Shepard is concurrently the Squadron Leader of the CAF Red Tail Squadron and P-51C Mustang pilot.

Shepard will oversee the design, execution and funding of CAF’s national education program, called RISE ABOVE. This new program is a result of the success of the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and will expand to include other compelling stories of World War II aviation, such as the Women Air Service Pilots (WASP); all done in an effort to use the lessons of the past to inspire today’s youth to “rise above” their circumstances.

“I look forward to helping others realize their potential by celebrating the stories of the men and women that rose above their circumstances in service to their country,” said Shepard. “I am excited about the opportunity to continue what has become my life's work to ‘Inspire for Higher’ in all aspects of my life.”

Read the entire press release on the CAF website.

Join us as we congratulate Bill Shepard on his new position and exciting work 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.

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Ohio student catches the ear of CAF Red Tail Squadron pilots

Ohio student catches the ear of CAF Red Tail Squadron pilots

Ryan Miller, a high school sophomore in Powell, Ohio, recently contacted the CAF Red Tail Squadron with a special invitation. Miller had been hard at work on a presentation for his English and history interdisciplinary class and was excited to share it with one of our P-51C Mustang pilots.

He was tasked with a project looking at the realities of history vs. Hollywood, and to pick a movie that has historical significance and compare the history of the movie to Hollywood’s version of events. The movie of choice? Red Tails.

Miller’s special request was to have one of the Squadron’s P-51C pilots attend his final presentation, as a gesture of honor to the Tuskegee Airmen and their legacy.

With all of his hard work, Miller learned a lot about the Tuskegee Airmen. “I believe the Airmen were some of the bravest young men in the United States military,” he said. “They were thought of as inferior and suffered racism both on and off the battlefield. In the end they created a legacy for themselves, known as one of the most elite fighter pilot groups in U.S. history.”

CAF Red Tail Squadron pilot Doug Rozendaal was quick to heed the call.

“I am happy to learn about your presentation, because I am sure that your have learned that, while the Red Tails movie did a great job of raising the awareness of the Tuskegee Airmen, its story has little congruence with history,” Rozendaal shared with the young learner. “I also applaud your teachers for their effort to cause young people such as yourself to dig deeper into history and learn that everything they see from Hollywood is not necessarily accurate. Further, much of our history is being glossed over in schools today and learning the lessons of the past is so much easier than trying to learn them over again from experience.”

Although Rozendaal was not able to attend, pilot Paul Stojkov was able to make the trip. “We're happy to report that Ryan Miller got an A on his ‘Red Tails’ history project!” said Stojkov. “His teachers were very encouraging and were impressed that our CAF Red Tail team offered so much support including a personal visit.”

Rozendaal reminds us, “The Airmen took an experiment that was designed to prove they could not do the job, and turned it into an opportunity that allowed them to achieve their wildest dreams, and changed the world in the process. They proved that anyone can ‘Rise Above’ adversity with hard work, discipline and focus. That is a great lesson for all young people.”

Thank you Ryan for sharing the inspiring history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen with your classmates!

RISE ABOVE!  

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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“Rocket Boy” pledges support to CAF Red Tail Squadron

“Rocket Boy” pledges support to CAF Red Tail Squadron

If you’ve seen the 1999 hit movie “October Sky” then you might be familiar with the Rocket Boys, the teenagers from West Virginia who were able to change their destiny through science and determination. In 1957, after being inspired by the launch of Sputnik, Homer Hickam, Jr. and his friends, against all odds, designed and built their own rockets… and landed the highest prize at the National Science Fair AND college scholarships that lifted them from a life of coal mining to the halls of NASA.

Jim O’Dell was one of the original Rocket Boys. After graduating high school, O’Dell enlisted in the Air Force, and earned a degree at Colorado State University following his time in the service. He’s no stranger to overcoming adversity; there were few opportunities for young men in the town he grew up in, and going to work in the mine was tough work, and expected. With a passion for rocket science and the will to better his future, O’Dell and his friends learned all they could about rocketry, eventually dazzling their hometown after having to convince everyone, maybe even themselves, that they had the brains to launch their homemade rockets thousands of feet in to the air.

O’Dell has reached out to the CAF Red Tail Squadron with his pledge of support for our mission and our majestic P-51C Mustang. He knows that it’s a collective effort to keep our warbird safely in the air, and he wanted to support our work, and our mission to honor the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. He’s belonged to our donor ranks for some time now, but wanted to make a pledge specifically for the new paint the Mustang greatly needs.

Recently, O’Dell and his family visited the Tuskegee Airmen Monument in Walterboro, South Carolina. It marks an important final training stop at the then Walterboro Army Airfield where the airmen received the final stages of combat training before shipping off overseas. 

“The memorial was beautiful, astounding,” said O’Dell. “I’ve been a donor to the CAF Red Tail Squadron for a long time, and I know these important old planes are worth preserving. Seeing this memorial made me remember what a brave group of men the Tuskegee Airmen were.”

Because O’Dell also served in the Air Force, he personally knows there is something special shared by the service’s band of brothers. He credits the military for changing his life, and can empathize with how the brotherhood of the Tuskegee Airmen changed not only their own lives, but set the stage for positive change for generations to come.

When asked if he would encourage other folks to support the CAF Red Tail Squadron? “Yes, God yes!” he answered emphatically. “That P-51 needs to keep flying. The Tuskegee Airmen are classic, and we need to continue to support them and their legacy.”

O’Dell overcame the weight of his own adversity, and knows sharing the history of the Tuskegee Airmen can inspire others to do the same. “Don’t let an obstacle get in your way,” he said. “If you’ve got a fire in your gut, do it. Whatever it is that you love, do it, no matter what.”

October Sky was adapted from the book Rocket Boys, a memoir written by Hickam and first published in 1998. Both are sources of great inspiration and a timeless story of important life lessons. Like our Guiding Six Principles, much can be achieved if you AIM HIGH and NEVER QUIT.

RISE ABOVE!

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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Honoring the birthday of the legendary B.O. Davis, Jr.

Honoring the birthday of the legendary B.O. Davis, Jr.

On December 18, 1912 Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. was born in Washington, D.C. He was the son of Elnora Dickerson Davis and Benjamin Davis, Sr., at the time one of only two black combat officers in the US Army, and the distinguished man who would later become our nation’s first black general, the first in any branch of service. Davis, Jr. would go on to play a prominent role with the Tuskegee Airmen, and himself become a pioneer in military leadership for black Americans. Although he was born over 100 years ago, his significance and the respect he commands endure today.

As a boy, Davis developed a keen interest in aviation after attending a barnstorming exhibition at Bolling Field in Washington, D.C. where one of the pilots offered him a ride in his plane. This experience set in motion Davis’ passion to one day become a pilot, despite the obstacles he would face simply because of the color of his skin.

After time spent at two other colleges, Davis attended the US Military Academy at West Point with the appointment of the only black congressman serving at the time, Illinois Representative Oscar De Priest. Unfortunately, during his education he was shunned by his fellow cadets, forced to bunk alone and even eat all his meals in isolation. No cadets, faculty or staff members befriended or spoke to him except on an official basis. He was made to feel unwanted and unvalued because of that era’s prevailing ignorant racism. In a show of great perseverance and strength, in 1936 Davis became the fourth African-American to graduate from West Point, and the first in the 20th century, graduating 35th in his class 276 cadets.

After being commissioned as a second lieutenant, he became one of only two black combat officers in the Army, the other being his father. Even after his treatment at West Point, he still had the tenacity and passion to become a pilot but was turned down for flight training because there were no black units in the air service, and therefore he could not be accepted, despite his qualifications. He was eventually placed at the Tuskegee Institute in 1939 as an instructor in their Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, following in his father’s footsteps, and he quickly moved up the ranks. But the passion for flight remained.

In 1941 when the Air Corps Advanced Flying School was activated at Tuskegee, Davis was among the first class of pilot candidates. He became one of only five men to complete the course and then became the first black officer to make a solo flight in an Army Air Corps plane. A dream was realized, and in July 1942 he was assigned as the commander of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, going on to provide exemplary leadership to the Tuskegee Airmen as they prepared for and fought in WWII in the European theater. He flew many successful missions in the P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang and was awarded the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Davis’ name would become synonymous with the success of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen.

Davis is credited for playing an important role in the desegregation of the armed forces that finally came about in 1948, helping to draft the Air Force’s plan to carry out this order. He then went on to become the first black graduate of the Air War College, critical to his continued promotion in the Air Force, and again flew missions during war time in the Korean conflict. He continued to rise in the ranks, all while rising above adversity.

Davis’ final promotion to general (four stars), U.S. Air Force, occurred on December 9, 1998. He is our nation’s second African-American general officer, his father Davis Sr. the first. At the ceremony, while addressing other original surviving Tuskegee Airmen, President Bill Clinton said, “To all of us, General Davis, you are the very embodiment of the principle that from diversity we can build an even stronger unity and that in diversity we can find the strength to prevail and advance. If we follow your example, America will always be strong, growing stronger. We will always be a leader for democracy, opportunity, and peace. We will be able to fulfill the promise of our founders, to be a nation of equal rights and dignity for all, whose citizens pledge to each other our lives, our fortune, our sacred honor, in pursuit of that more perfect Union.”

In March of 2015, West Point announced their newest cadet barracks would be named for Davis. “General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. epitomizes the essence of character and honorable living we strive to inspire in every cadet at West Point,” said Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, West Point superintendent. Davis’ struggles may not be erased, but a culture of understanding and gratitude is certainly welcome and due.

Davis passed away in 2002 at the age of 89. We thank him for his example of perseverance, dedication and commitment to country. General Davis, we salute you and honor your memory on your birthday, December 18.

RISE ABOVE!

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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Portraits of Tuskegee Airmen: Nicholas Neblett

Portraits of Tuskegee Airmen: Nicholas Neblett

Two decades before Martin Luther King, Jr. led the freedom march in Selma, Alabama to bring awareness to civil rights and the difficulties faced by black voters in the south, the Tuskegee Airmen were paving the way for the eventual end of segregation. Original Tuskegee Airman Nicholas Neblett, like other Airmen that served with the country’s first black pilots and their support personnel, played a role in the movement towards racial justice and today we honor his life and legacy.

Neblett was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he continued to make his home until his passing. When he was drafted into the service during WWII, he entered the flying corps where he eventually earned the unique triple rating of pilot, navigator and bombardier. He was stationed at Midland Army Airfield in Texas, where at that time black pilots were not allowed to land on the main airstrip, but had to find a place to set their aircraft down safely in adjacent crop fields. And like many black service members of that era, Neblett experienced other frustrations of segregation, including being excluded from the officers club. It was an unwelcome lesson in perseverance and patience that people of color where forced to take.

Although Neblett did not deploy overseas, he played a vital role in servicing aircraft stateside. After his service to the US Army Air Corp ended, he went on to have an illustrious career with GE Aviation for 33 years, utilizing his expertise and passion for aviation to test jet engines for the worldwide company.

Nicholas Neblett, Jr., the second youngest of Neblett’s seven children, says his father was a strong, independent man - even into his 90s - that had a solid work ethic and dedication to his family values.

On the occasion that Neblett would speak about his experiences during the war, his family remembers that he would let others speak to the heroics of their experiences, while Neblett felt compelled to speak honestly about the difficult realities faced by black service members. He might have not been the most vocal, but he had the courage to discuss these issues even though they might not be the most popular.

When asked about his father and his history with the Tuskegee Airmen, Neblett, Jr. replies, “My father inspired all of us by his lifestyle and what he meant to our family. We knew that his experience in the segregated military, even as a Tuskegee Airman, only served to make him stronger. He used that to deal with life outside the service, even though racial difficulties extended for decades.”

Neblett’s family knew that his service as a Tuskegee Airman was unique, but unfortunately it took the history books decades to catch up, and the Airmen themselves had to prove themselves to be top-notch bomber escorts before anyone took notice.

“I was born 12 years after my father’s service to our country, and I remember playing in his old uniforms and not realizing the significance of it because I was so young,” recalls Neblett, Jr. “When I was older and in school learning about the civil rights movement, it occurred to me how important my dad was as a Tuskegee Airman. In fact, because the contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen never came up in my history classes, I tried to bring in some of his squadron patches and hats, but the teacher would not allow the discussion. It’s taken a lifetime for people to understand and honor the significance of this group of trailblazers.”

Neblett passed away on November 26, 2014 at the age of 93. He was a longtime member of the Cincinnati chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. serving in leadership roles and attending annual conferences. He is an example of strength and integrity that his family has grown from for three generations. Today we salute Nicholas Neblett for fighting for our country and freedom from oppression, both abroad and at home.

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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Show your support for our P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen during CAF’s 12 Planes of Christmas!

Show your support for our P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen during CAF’s 12 Planes of Christmas!

This month, the Commemorative Air Force is proud to present the 12 Planes of Christmas, a unique giving program designed to raise awareness and needed funds for their fleet of over 164 vintage military aircraft. A fully restored WWII fighter and iconic aircraft of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s P-51C Mustang is one of the fleet’s most admired aircraft and part of this fun holiday giving program.

To participate, visit our aircraft’s page from December 1 to December 31 to pledge your support directly to our P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen.

Our Mustang is flown in numerous air shows and events around the country for nine months out of each year in order to reach as many people as possible with our inspirational message. Pledges of support through this year’s 12 Planes of Christmas program will ensure the aircraft’s safe operation and continued ability to honor the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Donating directly to support the maintenance and continued airworthiness of our P-51C Mustang is crucial to our mission. Our aircraft, along with the entire CAF fleet, is an important relic of American history. It requires meticulous attention to detail to ensure its safety and ability to stay in the air for the next generation. Tuskegee Airmen is a museum without walls and your support will help ensure it continues to inspire those who need to hear, see and feel the inspirational message of the Tuskegee Airmen through such a unique vehicle to tell the story.

Pledge your support for this iconic tribute to the legendary Tuskegee Airmen TODAY!

 

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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CAF Red Tail Squadron Reaches Record Numbers with Inspirational Message of Tuskegee Airmen

CAF Red Tail Squadron Reaches Record Numbers with Inspirational Message of Tuskegee Airmen

Minneapolis, Minn. – November 30, 2015 – The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Red Tail Squadron, America’s tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, recently finished their 2015 annual tour of their RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and fully-restored P-51C Mustang WWII fighter aircraft. This year marked a record number of groups that came through the Exhibit, and brings a total of over 173,000 visitors to off-tarmac events since the Exhibit’s debut in 2011. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people learned about the Tuskegee Airmen through the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s inspirational program at air shows and community festivals.

Each year this unique outreach program brings the history of the Tuskegee Airmen to life at schools and events across the country. In 2015, the CAF Red Tail Squadron visited multiple locations in Florida, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Colorado, Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan, Ontario, Ohio, Louisiana, Texas and Alabama, and for the first time visited Oregon, Washington state and Massachusetts.

The mission of the CAF Red Tail Squadron is to educate audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen – America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel – so their strength of character, courage and ability to triumph over adversity may serve as a means to inspire others to RISE ABOVE obstacles in their own lives and achieve their goals. The group’s Six Guiding Principles – Aim High, Believe In Yourself, Use Your Brain, Be Ready To Go, Never Quit and Expect to Win – serve as the foundation for their outreach programs and are based on the experiences and successes of the Tuskegee Airmen.

The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit is a fully functional movie theater featuring the original short film “Rise Above.” This immersive experience is housed in a climate controlled 53’ semi trailer with expandable sides and equipped with a ramp and hydraulic lift to ensure access to all, comfortably accommodating 30 visitors for each showing.

Because of its dynamic 160-degree panoramic screen, the film creates the feeling of being in the cockpit soaring above the clouds in the P-51C Mustang – the signature aircraft of the Tuskegee Airmen in WWII. Audience members will learn what it was like for the Airmen as they worked toward their goal of becoming U.S. Army Air Corps pilots in the early 1940’s, and the obstacles they had the perseverance to overcome. At the conclusion of the film, audiences experience the excitement and thrill of flying this historic aircraft – touted the world’s greatest fighter – in formation, aerobatics and picturesque passes. View a preview at www.redtail.org/traveling-exhibit/.

“2015 was a banner year for us. We were able to reach a record number of people with the inspirational message of the Tuskegee Airmen, using the excitement of aviation to positively affect people of all ages across the county,” said CAF Red Tail Squadron Leader and P-51C Mustang pilot Bill Shepard. “This is truly a one-of-a-kind adventure. Kids and adults walk away from the CAF Red Tail Squadron experience with a greater understanding of the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, inspired to achieve their potential. Our 2016 event lineup is already filled with many new communities that will have the opportunity to experience this important and inspirational message.”

About the CAF Red Tail Squadron

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501(c)(3) charitable 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. Their three-fold outreach program includes an authentic, fully restored WWII-era P-51C Mustang, the signature aircraft of the Tuskegee Airmen; the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit 53’ mobile theater featuring the original panoramic film “Rise Above”; and educational materials and programs for teachers and youth leaders. The CAF Red Tail Squadron is part of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). To learn more about the organization, it’s mission or to become a donor, visit www.redtail.org or follow the Squadron on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cafredtailsquadron.

About the Commemorative Air Force

Collecting and flying warbirds for over half a century, the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) is the largest flying museum in the world. The CAF is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to honoring American military aviation history through flight, exhibition and remembrance. The organization feels this is best accomplished by keeping the aircraft flying. The CAF has more than 12,000 members and a fleet of over 164 airplanes assigned to 70 units across the country. These units, comprised of CAF volunteer members, restore and operate the planes, which are viewed by more than 10 million spectators annually. Visit www.commemorativeairforce.org or call (877) 767-7175 for more information.

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Squadron’s efforts extend FAR beyond the air show ramp

The CAF Red Tail Squadron spends nine months out of each year crisscrossing the country to educate audiences everywhere about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. You may relate our marvelous P-51C Mustangs to air shows, mesmerizing audiences with aerobatics and the purr of a Merlin engine. It’s a great place to share this important legacy with aviation enthusiasts of all walks. Kids and adults can see our original movie “Rise Above” and be inspired by these great Americans, all in the comfort of our RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit.

Our air show audiences are great! We love the folks we meet and how we are able to inspire, not just doing rolls and dives for the crowd in the Mustang, but also in our panoramic theater. But what we do is not limited to the air show ramp. In fact, our participation in air shows across the country is only one piston in our engine, so to speak!

With each new town we roll in to, the CAF Red Tail Squadron staff is hard at work behind the scenes working with each community to ensure that local schools and community groups have the opportunity to see the P-51C Mustang and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit in their town BEFORE the air show begins. Typically, we arrive and set up at a school or community venue 3-4 days prior to the start of the show. These days are focused on one of our greatest driving objectives – to carry the lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen into every classroom in America – as envisioned by our founder, the late Don Hinz.

Our dedication to pre-air show community outreach sets us apart from many air show acts, and is one of the leading components of our educational outreach initiative. The attention that we get from the local media at these special events is fantastic. By showing their interest, the news coverage we get further helping us spread our very important and inspirational message. We are working hard and doing our best to make sure that with each air show and each community we visit, as many people as possible get the opportunity to hear about the Tuskegee Airmen, and how their strength of character, courage and ability to triumph over adversity serves as a means to inspire others to RISE ABOVE obstacles in their own lives and achieve their goals.

In addition to the folks that come to see us at our scheduled flagship events, we have brought in over an additional 89,000 school children to learn from the CAF Red Tail Squadron. 89,000! By investing the time to roll off the tarmac and out into the community, we are reaching a very important group who are ripe for the message and will be the ones to carry the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen on to the next generation. It’s a privilege and an honor that we take very seriously.

Interested in bringing the P-51C Mustang and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit to your community? Contact Marvona Welsh at marvona@redtail.org or 812-240-2560 to learn how you can work with the CAF Red Tail Squadron to be a Hometown Hero!

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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Meet our new Squadron Leader!

Meet our new Squadron Leader!

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is proud to share that Bill Shepard has been promoted to the position of Squadron Leader. Bill has been an outstanding volunteer and advocate for the organization since 2009, piloting the Squadron’s P-51C Mustang around the country and speaking to thousands about the importance of the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.

The ability to lead the CAF Red Tail Squadron requires more than aviation operations knowledge and management skill, but a keen desire and passion to carry on the vision of our late founder, Don Hinz.

“I never had the opportunity to meet Don, but I pledge to be true to his vision to carry the lessons and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen into every classroom in America. We will be giving so much more than a history lesson. Our inspirational and exciting message helps these kids learn how to apply the Airmen’s guiding principles to their own lives and find their own success,” said Shepard.

Bill is the manager of supply chain management for Fortune Minerals, and is also the firm’s manager of community engagement, bringing a unique talent for community relations to the role of Squadron Leader. In addition to his volunteer service with the CAF Red Tail Squadron, he has held leadership positions with the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association, Tuskegee Airmen National Museum and the Urban Pilots Network. He has had his pilot’s license since the age of 16, and his passion for aviation has been a guiding force in his life since he was just a kid.

Bill’s vision for the future of the CAF Red Tail Squadron includes a commitment to sustainability and operational excellence. “I have profound respect for the Tuskegee Airmen and it is my honor to continue upon the foundation that was put in place by the Squadron leaders before me,” he said. “One of my highest priorities is to increase our impact on the communities we visit. We are fortunate to be a living, flying history museum. Our educational outreach mission will continue to grow as we engage with more people, grow our volunteer base and garner the support needed to visit new areas and communities that are in greatest need of our inspirational message.”

It is through 30 years of industry experience – and a deep love of aviation and respect for the Tuskegee Airmen – that his life’s work has brought him to this juncture. Bill understands the responsibility set before him, one of great importance, and has already demonstrated a level of commitment and integrity to the Tuskegee Airmen and the Red Tail Squadron that has been appreciated by his peers. “The selection of Bill Shepard to take on this important role was a wonderful choice,” said Stephan Brown, president of the Commemorative Air Force. “He has shown great skill and dedication in his years with the CAF Red Tail Squadron and we look forward to his continued success as he implements his own vision for leadership and growth.”

The CAF Red Tail Squadron would also like to thank Brad Lang outgoing Squadron Leader, for his extraordinary volunteer service to the organization. Under his leadership, Brad has overseen the rapid expansion of the Squadron’s educational outreach efforts, including the debut of the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit. Himself the son of an original Tuskegee Airman, he leaves a lasting impact on the mission of the Red Tail Squadron to educate audiences around the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Bill remarked that he would like to recognize the staff and volunteers of the CAF Red Tail Squadron, and that the organization continues to be successful because of the group that has been developed and their collective professional and personal dedication to the mission.

“It’s a good work of many. I tip by hat to our outstanding staff and volunteers across the country. It’s my watch now and I hope to make everyone proud.”

Congratulations Bill Shepard on your promotion to Squadron Leader! RISE ABOVE!

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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Portraits of Tuskegee Airmen: Charles Dryden

Portraits of Tuskegee Airmen: Charles Dryden

“Chuck Dryden is a sincere, honest, friendly person who has fought the good fight throughout his long life and now, through the medium of his autobiography, desires to share its important details with all Americans but particularly with Americans of goodwill, who need all the information they can muster to arm them for the antiracism fight that will continue for the remainder of our lives and those of our descendants.”

~ General Benjamin O. Davis

“A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airmen”

We are proud to offer an ongoing deeper look into the personal and professional lives of Tuskegee Airmen. Their drive and determination, in the air during the war and in their education and careers as they forged ahead stateside, is not only impressive, it’s inspirational. These American heroes are the kind of role models we should all aspire to, and today we take a moment to learn about Charles W. Dryden, a man with a passion for flying that led him to fly for the Army Air Corps.

Dryden was born on September 16, 1920, in New York City to Jamaican parents who were educators. He graduated from Peter Stuyvesant High School and earned a BA in political science from Hofstra University and an MA in public law and government from Columbia University. In 1996, he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters by Hofstra University.

In August 1941, Dryden was selected for aviation cadet training at the Tuskegee Army Flying School in Alabama. He was commissioned on April 29, 1942 as a second lieutenant in a class of only three graduates, which was the second class of black pilots to graduate in the history of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Upon completing his training, Dryden was named a member of the famed 99th Pursuit Squadron, and later the 332 Fighter Group, which served in North Africa, Sicily and Italy during World War II. On June 9, 1943 Lt. "A-Train" (his P-40 nickname) led a flight of six pilots engaging enemy fighter aircraft in aerial combat over Pantelleria, Sicily. It was the first time in aviation history that black American pilots of the U.S. Army Air Corps engaged aircraft in combat. When he retired from service, he had achieved the rank of Lt. Col.

Following the war, Dryden served as a professor of air science at Howard University and retired in 1962 as a command pilot with 4,000 hours flying time. A member of the board of directors of the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame, he also is a member of the Atlanta Metro Lions Club, Quality Living Services (a senior citizens organization) and the Atlanta Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. (ACTAI), which he helped found in 1978 and served as president, vice president and national convention committee chairman. He has been inducted into the Honorable Orders of the Daedalians, the Kentucky Colonels and the Palmetto Gentlemen of South Carolina. In 1998, Colonel Dryden was inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame. He was designated an Outstanding Georgia Citizen by the Secretary of State in 1997.

His autobiography, “A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman,” was published by the University of Alabama Press in 1997. The book is a remarkable account of Dryden’s youth, war experience and feelings about the deep impact of racism on our country. You can find it in our webstore, including rare autographed copies.

“A-Train is a moving memoir of a black military officer and illustrates the period of racial integration in both military and civilian life. Colonel Dryden’s book commands our attention because it is a balanced account by an insightful man who enlisted in a segregated army and retired from an integrated air force. Dryden is eloquent in his presentation of the experiences he has shared and the changes he has witnessed. This story of an authentic American hero will touch each and every reader.”

Dryden passed away in 2008. He leaves behind not only a legacy of determination, but proof that following your dreams can change the course of history. Like other Tuskegee Airmen, Dryden’s passion and skill for flight was stronger than the racism thrust upon him at every juncture. Because these fine American’s had the strong desire and will to become aviators and serve their country, they changed the course of race relations and history shows we have all benefited from their ability to triumph over adversity.

To Charles Dryden, a fine aviator and citizen, we salute you for your service!

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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Hear P-51C Mustang pilot Bill Shepard and Tuskegee Airman Col McGee’s latest interview!

We are fortunate to spend 42 weeks out of the year on the road, zigzagging across the country to tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen through the exciting RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and our P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen. We are honored to have members of the media interested in what we do and we certainly enjoy their support. Getting the word out about our mission in this way is helping us achieve our mission to educate audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen!

Even though it was Labor Day weekend and like you all of us here at the CAF Red Tail Squadron were scrambling to enjoy the last days of summer, P-51C Mustang pilot and Squadron champion Bill Shepard was on point speaking about our efforts with the folks from Frontlines of Freedom, a radio show supporting American veterans. You can listen to the entire interview online and hear how Bill’s enthusiasm for the Squadron is helping to share our inspirational message!

As an added treat, original Tuskegee Airmen Col Charles McGee is also a guest on the same show, so enjoy hearing directly from this fine American about his experience serving our country as a pilot in both WWII and the Korean War. Inspiration at it’s finest!

 

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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EAA AirVenture “Oshkosh” ‘15

EAA AirVenture “Oshkosh” ‘15

By Ken Mist, CAF Red Tail Squadron Volunteer Coordinator

In the lexicon of the aviation enthusiast, no word stirs the heart and mind more than “Oshkosh,” the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture. This annual fly-in is a weeklong celebration in Eastern Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Winnebago, drawing more than a half million participants and over 10,000 airplanes.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron was well represented at this year’s EAA AirVenture by four of the Squadron’s pilots – Doug, Bill, Alan and Paul – along with staff and volunteers LaVone, Marvona, Melanie and myself.

Along with LaVone and Marvona, I had the honor of acting as one of the escorts for Colonel Charles E. McGee, original Tuskegee Airman, as he attended a number of events throughout the week. Interviews, book signings and presentations kept the Col and all of us hopping. The highlight of the week for the Squadron was the Saturday “Warbirds In Review,” where the Mustang and Col McGee were the stars of the show.

Oshkosh 1

We also had the great pleasure of helping the CAF with their introduction of the C-47 “That’s All Brother” to the public. Marvona played the main roles of coordinating the volunteer tour guides and signing up new donors to help get the Douglas Skytrain back in the air. The response was overwhelming!

Oshkosh 2

As the week was winding down, Sunday morning gave us an opportunity to fulfill one of Col McGee’s dreams. With the help of Eddie Ogden of Goodyear Airship Operations, Col McGhee was able to take a ride on the newest member of the Goodyear fleet “Wingfoot One.” 

Oshkosh 3

Not content just to ride in the Zeppelin NT, he actually took control for a few minutes bringing his total number of aircraft types flown to 27!

Oshkosh 4

We would like to extend a hearty thanks to the staff and volunteers of the EAA for their hospitality, and offer special thanks to the thousands of enthusiasts we met during the week. Oshkosh may be an aviation event, but it’s the memories of the PEOPLE that you take home with you! We can’t wait to return in ’16!

 

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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Portraits of Tuskegee Airmen: Leo Gray

Portraits of Tuskegee Airmen: Leo Gray

The CAF Red Tail Squadron has many special relationships with original Tuskegee Airmen, and we absolutely treasure them. These American heroes are unique, continuing to inspire us as much today as when they fought fascism abroad and racism back home in the era of WWII. We are honored to stand beside these great role models at many of our outreach events around the country. Leo Gray, an original Tuskegee Airmen and pilot, continues to share his experience with our audiences, inspiring the next generation to RISE ABOVE.

Gray, born in Boston, volunteered for service in 1943. He went to flight school at Tuskegee Army Airfield where he qualified for single-engine fighters. He was then assigned to Ramitelli, Italy where he flew 15 combat missions in the P-51 Mustang, logging 750 flight hours. He served 3 years and seven months active duty, and remained in the United States Air Force Reserves until 1984. He retired after 41 years of service with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

“The Tuskegee Airmen are a classic example of overcoming adversity, and people in our country should know about it,” said Gray. “It is worthwhile for everyone.”

During his military career, Gray was awarded the Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, a Presidential Unit Citation and the Mediterranean Theatre of Operation Ribbon with three Battle Stars. The Tuskegee Airmen collectively were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by Congress in 2007 to recognize their “unique military record that inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces.”

After the war, Gray earned a Bachelor of Science at the University of Massachusetts and a Masters degree at the University of Nebraska, both in agricultural economics. For 30 years, Gray coordinated research for the USDA. He credits his military service as the catalyst that helped his civilian career by giving him the skill and perseverance to be successful.

Gray has played a leading role in the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. organization, serving as president of the Miami and East Coast chapters. He also helped to form a new chapter in Walterboro, South Carolina, the location of advanced combat training for Tuskegee-trained pilots before being shipped overseas to combat from 1943 to 1945.

He is also a dedicated member of the Boys & Girls Club of America – of which he was a member himself in his youth – and is a co-founder of the organization’s Ionosphere Club in Broward County, Florida. This unique group gives members the opportunity to learn about all aspects of flying, including science and mechanics.

“There are many young people, especially in urban areas, who have not been exposed to aviation,” remarks Gray. “They need to understand what’s available for them. Aviation is a field with many openings. Pilots and support personnel are in demand because of many retirements. People need to understand the impact that aviation has on different areas of the country.”

Gray has been gracious enough to help make our outreach visits even more impactful and inspiring by appearing at several of our events. For example, earlier this year, Gray joined us in Florida to speak directly to school groups about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, and how students can utilize the Squadron’s Six Principles in their own lives - Aim High, Believe In Yourself, Use Your Brain, Be Ready To Go, Never Quit, Expect to Win.

“The CAF Red Tail Squadron is one of the few organizations that has a hands-on approach to opening peoples' eyes to aviation and the history of the Tuskegee Airmen,” he says. “The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit gives young people the opportunity to find out things that might never have been exposed to.”

Thanks to the ongoing hard work and perseverance of Tuskegee Airmen, including Lt Col (Ret) Gray, younger generations are learning not only about an important piece of American history, but about what grit, determination and strength of character really means. Thank you Leo Gray for continuing to serve your communities and your country. We salute you!

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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First Tuskegee Airmen POW featured in new documentary

First Tuskegee Airmen POW featured in new documentary

Original Tuskegee Airmen Lt Col Alexander Jefferson was one of 32 Tuskegee Airmen from the 332nd Fighter Group to be shot down defending a country that considered them to be second-class citizens. He recounts his experience as a prisoner of war in a German prison camp in his 2005 book, “Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free,” available in our webstore.

Jefferson’s account is perhaps the only published perspective from an African-American in a German prison camp. On August 12, 1944 while on a strafing run over southern France, his nineteenth and final mission, Jefferson was shot down and became a “guest of the Third Reich” as he puts it. It is a harrowing tale that caught the ear of filmmakers Mike and Sheldon Rott, producers of “Luft Gangsters: Memoirs of a Second Class Hero.”

“Luft” is the German word for air. During the war, German’s depicted American fighter pilots as gangsters. Unsavory racist depictions even figured in to German propaganda. “We were simply doing our job,” says Jefferson.

View the trailer for this remarkable documentary and order a copy of the film at www.luftgangstermovie.com. Recently, the film’s producers surprised Jefferson with news that “Luft Gangsters” won the Audience Choice Award at the Albuquerque Film and Music Experience. Congratulations Lt Col Jefferson for your fine work on this extraordinary film, and again thank you for your service to our country. RISE ABOVE!

 

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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Portraits of Tuskegee Airmen: Charles Hall

Portraits of Tuskegee Airmen: Charles Hall

Many of those who served with the Tuskegee Airmen came home with fascinating and harrowing stories to tell. War was brutal. And fighting against racial segregation and discrimination was an unjust second battle to endure. The courage it took to persevere in that one facet itself is admirable.

hall2Maj Charles Hall, one of the American heroes, served in the war, and ended up becoming an icon. As a fighter pilot with the 99th Fighter Squadron, Hall was the first Tuskegee Airmen – and African American – to shoot down an enemy aircraft in WWII, earning the group its first aerial victory credit. The kill happened on July 2, 1943. Hall was on an escort mission of B-25 medium bombers on a raid on Castelvetrano in southwestern Sicily, Italy when he shot down the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger. He did so in a P-40.

The mission was his eighth. Hall spotted two Fw 190s encroaching on the bombers after they had dropped their payloads on the enemy airfield. He quickly maneuvered into the space between the bombers and fighters and turned inside the two Fw 190s. He fired a long burst at one of the aircraft, as it turned left. After several hits, it fell off and crashed into the ground.

The win would be the first and only aerial victory in all of 1943 for the Tuskegee Airmen. Hall would go on to down three more enemy aircraft before his time ended in WWII, an impressive record with only a few other Airmen earning four. In his military career, he flew 198 combat missions over Africa, Italy and other parts of Europe and was the first African-American to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Hall grew up in a rural town in southwestern Indiana where his family was most certainly in the population’s minority. He was one of the first of the 43 black pilots who would become known as the Tuskegee Airmen and go down in history for their ability to triumph against adversity.

After serving time in the WWII, Hall went on to attain the rank of Major in the Air Force. He was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base from 1949 to 1967 before going on to work with the Federal Aviation Administration. As a second career, he became a successful insurance agent in Oklahoma City.

Unfortunately, Hall passed away in 1971 at the young age of 51. The Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. Charles B. Hall Chapter in Oklahoma City is dedicated to his legacy and that of all the Tuskegee Airmen. Tinker Air Force Base also honors Hall with its Charles B. Hall Airpark, which is free and accessible to the general public.

We salute Maj Hall for his service to our country, his aerial prowess and the fine example he has set for generations to come. RISE ABOVE!

To learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen’s aerial victories, read “112 Victories: Aerial Victory Credits of the Tuskegee Airmen” Dr. Daniel L. Haulman of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

Cpt. Charles Hall

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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