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.

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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Tuskegee Airman Speaking at Free Event in Red Wing September 12

Dr. Brown book coverThe CAF Red Tail Squadron is excited to announce an event in their hometown with Dr. Harold Brown, World War II pilot with the famed Tuskegee Airmen. The Squadron is hosting his appearance in Red Wing, which will inspire the local community through his remarkable experience as one of our nation’s first black military pilots.

The public is invited to meet this American hero in person and hear him speak about his personal experience from his new book, “Keep Your Airspeed Up: The Story of a Tuskegee Airman,” co-authored with his wife Dr. Marsha Bordner. The FREE event open to the public will be held Tuesday, September 12 at 6:00 p.m. at Sheldon Theater. All ages are welcome to attend.

Dr. Brown is a Minneapolis native and North High School graduate. He flew with the famed 332nd Fighter Group in World War II, the famed all black military pilots who overcame great adversity to fly and flight for our country. He graduated from the Tuskegee Institute’s segregated pilot training program and was commissioned as an officer in the then U.S. Army Air Corps in 1944. During his time in combat, Dr. Brown completed missions strafing targets on the ground and protecting bombers in the air. On his 30th mission, he was shot down over enemy territory, bailing out of his badly damaged P-51 and being taken as a prisoner of war.

Dr. Brown served his country for 23 years. He retired in 1965 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, experienced in 20 different military aircraft and with a post at Strategic Air Command under his belt during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Dr. Brown went on to earn a Ph.D., eventually retiring from Columbus Technical College as Vice President of Academic Affairs. His many successes after the war illustrate his passion for education and community service, which he has carried with him until today, speaking to countless groups and students to inspire them with his own personal story of struggle and success.

The event at Sheldon Theater will include a short video, a presentation by Dr. Brown, a question and answer session, and opportunity for autographs. Mark your calendar to meet, learn from and be inspired by this living legend. Sheldon Theater is located at 443 W 3rd St. in Red Wing. No tickets are required for this free event.

In addition to the event at Sheldon Theater, Dr. Brown has also made time to speak with local students and at a correctional facility in the area to encourage all to “rise above” their challenges and find success.

His visit to Red Wing is made possible by the CAF Red Tail Squadron, a non-profit group based in Red Wing that works to ensure the inspirational legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen lives on for generations to come.

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: Robert Friend

The history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen is inspirational to people of all ages. Their life lessons can impart a special meaning for people from all walks of life. From a child in awe of a red-tailed airplane, to the elderly veteran full of gratitude for their fellow war heroes, there is something in each of their stories that can inspire us all to live better, fuller and braver lives.

One such hero is Robert Friend, one of the oldest living original Tuskegee Airmen pilots.  Born in Columbia, South Carolina in 1920, Friend was interested in aviation from a young age. He read stories of World War I pilots in old magazines and made his own makeshift airplanes for imaginative play. Friend had wanted to enlist in the Army to fly for our country, but was turned away. Even though the country was making preparations for war, black Americans could not join the Armed Forces to serve as pilots.

While a student at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania – the first historically black college to grant college degrees – he took aviation-related courses. When the Civilian Pilot Training Program began in 1939 for college students, Friend eagerly applied and was accepted. He completed the program and earned his private pilot’s license. But this was only the first step to becoming a military pilot. When the program opened an opportunity for a segregated pilot training program at Tuskegee, Friend finally had his chance to join the war effort and earn his wings for his country.

Robert Friend young photoAfter successfully completing all phases of training, he was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and assigned to the 301st Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group. By that time, the country had officially entered the war. When he deployed overseas, Friend was first sent to North Africa, then to the Europe Theater as a Combat Operations Officer at the squadron and group levels. He was responsible for planning and organizing the implementation of strategic and tactical air missions.

He was a skilled pilot in the P-47 and P-51 aircraft. He flew wing man for Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who would later go on to be come the first black general of the United States Air Force. He flew 142 combat missions in World War II. His service extended in several other capacities during the Korean and Vietnam wars. He finished his education at the Air Force Institution of Technology.

His career with the Air Force included serving as Assistant Deputy of Launch Vehicles, working on important space launch vehicles such as the Titan, Atlas and Delta rockets and the Space Shuttle. He served as a Foreign Technology Program Director where he identified and monitored research and development programs related to national security. He was also the Director of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Program, tasked with investigating unidentified flying objects.

After retiring from the military, his expertise was utilized to oversee the design and production of space products for the Space Shuttle program, lead a company that creates components for the International Space Station and other satellite systems, and direct the research and development for USAF weapons and missile programs.

When Friend was in the air during World War II, he flew a P-51D Mustang, slightly different from our P-51C model. A D model, painted up with his original “Bunny” bathing beauty, has been on static display at the Palm Springs Air Museum for a number of years, but had an extensive overhaul to make it airworthy once again, taking it’s first flight in decades in February 2015.

Although identical, this particular aircraft was not the one Friend flew, but was built near the end of the war and never saw combat. It’s almost certain that the P-51D Friend piloted himself never made it back to the states. When the war ended, it was too much trouble to return many of the combat aircraft to the U.S. and they were commonly scrapped in Europe, or if they were returned to the states they were sold to civilians for very little.

Also of credit to this inspirational Tuskegee Airman, Friend is an active participant in Ride 2 Recovery, cycling events that benefit mental and physical rehabilitation programs for our country’s wounded veterans. Friend himself has ridden in the events, and plays a large role in helping to bring awareness to the program.FullSizeRender

Want to try to keep up with this active veteran? Follow him on Facebook to see what he’s up to and where he will be next.

Lt Col Friend, we salute you for your decades of service to our country, and for inspiring future generations to pursue their dreams and make a difference, just like you and your fellow Tuskegee Airmen.

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: Elmer Jones

Portraits of Tuskegee Airmen: Elmer Jones

As we know, not all Tuskegee Airmen were pilots. Many were support personnel, and in the case of Col Elmer Jones, some began their training as pilots but matriculated into other important support roles. Today we take a closer look at Col Jones and his respectable service, both military and civilian.

The pilots that became known as the Tuskegee Airmen got a shot at flying through the Civilian Pilot Training Program Act. This program, signed into law in 1939, was designed to strengthen the military’s preparedness prior to entering World War II while opening up pilot training to many who never had or would never have had an opportunity to learn to fly, including African Americans and women. When the program allowed candidates to apply from historically black colleges like the Tuskegee Institute, Hampton Institute, Coffey School of Aeronautics and Howard University, the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen was set into motion.

Col Jones was among the first graduates of Howard University’s Civilian Pilot Training Program, where he received his pilot’s license in addition to an undergraduate degree in engineering. In 1940 he was sent to the Tuskegee Institute for advanced flight training in what was know as the “secondary program” of their Civilian Pilot Training Program.

But early in 1941, Jones was offered the opportunity to utilize his degree in a non-flying role to work in aircraft engineering. He was transferred to Chanute Field in Illinois with five other black aviation cadets, all to be trained as technical officers for the 99th Fighter Squadron. After finishing ground crew technical training later that year, the officers went back to Tuskegee to complete their hands-on training alongside the fighter pilots under the command of B.O. Davis, Jr.

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Jones was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and assigned duties involving aircraft repair and technical supply. He was assigned to the 99th Service Detachment, which was shipped overseas with the 99th Fighter Squadron in April 1943, serving in both North Africa and Italy.

Jones served as the Commanding Officer and Engineering Officer of the Detachment, and was later assigned as Commanding Officer of the 366th Service Squadron serving the 332nd Fighter Group after the 99th became a part of the 332nd Fighter Group in June of 1944.

See an interview with Col Jones produced by Illinois Public Media to hear him describe his experience in his own words.

Following the war, Jones continued his service in the US Air Force until his retirement in 1970. During his tenure, he also earned his master’s degree in electronics and communications from the University of Illinois and an MBA in research and development management from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. He became a research and development specialist with the Air Force, serving in various leadership positions including time at Lockbourne Air Force Base in Ohio and the Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

For ten years following his retirement from military service, he served as assistant commissioner for telecommunications of the General Services Administration. He passed away in 2013 at the age of 94.

In 2007 Col Jones was among the surviving Tuskegee Airmen to attend the presentation of the collective Congressional Gold Medal honoring the Airmen, presented by President George W. Bush. The House and Senate had voted unanimously to award the medal collectively to the pilots, bombardiers, navigators, mechanics, ground officers and all enlisted men and women who served with the Tuskegee Airmen. The award came over 60 years after the Airmen fought for their right to fight for our country’s freedom. Jones is quoted as saying; “It’s never too late for your country to say that you’ve done a great job for us.”

Today we honor the memory of Col Jones, and acknowledge that it is never too late to thank the Tuskegee Airmen, not only for their service to our country during the war, but for paving the way for equal civil rights for generations to come. At the CAF Red Tail Squadron, we will continue to work hard to honor the history and legacy of these great Americans because of their courage and sacrifice, and today we salute Col Elmer Jones.

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’s Florida Wing and Red Tail Squadron work together to share inspiration and make a dream come true

CAF’s Florida Wing and Red Tail Squadron work together to share inspiration and make a dream come true

By Woodie Sprouse, Wing Leader of the CAF Florida Wing and Darcy Castro, PR and Communications Coordinator for the CAF Red Tail Squadron

The CAF’s Florida Wing and Red Tail Squadron recently teamed up to bring the Squadron’s RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit, along with their P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen, to the Florida Wing’s hangar in DeLand, Fla. Several days were designated for local school and youth groups, followed by an open house for the general public. It was a unique opportunity for all ages to experience the inspiring story of the Tuskegee Airmen – America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel.

The final event attracted many visitors and supporters of the CAF, and was the perfect setting for the conclusion of the dream of long-time CAF supporter Mr. Harry Van Iderstine.

Van Iderstine, a retired businessman and aviation enthusiast from New Smyrna Beach, Fla., watched as the crowd of friends and visitors slowly took their places in front of the Florida Wing’s shiny silver Beechcraft T-34A USAF trainer. Parked nearby was the Red Tail Squadron’s famous P-51C Mustang – the carefully restored and proudly maintained signature aircraft of the Tuskegee Airmen. Van Iderstine has a deep affinity and respect for the Tuskegee Airmen and the events of this day would be the conclusion of a dream that he had held close for so many of his 85 years.

Brad Lang and Harry Van Iderstine“The Red Tails were my kind of guys. They went through all sorts of adversity and they were my heroes,” said Van Iderstine. “What the Red Tail Squadron is doing is great and I hope they get the opportunity to change lives with their message.”

Born in Dennis, Mass., Van Iderstine served in the US Army during the war. After leaving the service – and as family, time and career permitted – he pursued his love of rare and exotic automobiles and in 1949 began his pursuit of collecting and restoration. Over the years, his home became the stable for the finest of those rare mechanical thoroughbreds such as the Cord, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Duesenberg.

At the age of 70, Van Iderstine took the next big step and obtained his private pilots license and in 2000 purchased a Cessna 182. Not one to rest, he purchased a restored T-34A in 2001 and two T-34B’s in 2002. Flying became his second passion and he loved it. However, as time passed and his health became an issue, he flew less and less. Still he loved to be near the sound and smell of airplanes.

As luck would have it, fortune smiled on Van Iderstine during an airshow in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. when he met Brad Lang, CAF Red Tail Squadron Leader and son of a Tuskegee Airman, who was flying the Squadron’s P-51C Mustang. The emotional connection between the two was instantaneous: they were men who loved flying…one aging, one young…one white, one black.

It was there that Van Iderstine’s dream took shape. The story of the Tuskegee Airmen – their perseverance, drive, strength to endure bias and their love of flying – struck a chord within him and a dream began. It was a dream that coincided with the Squadron’s mission to share the history and legacy with all children, regardless of race. Van Iderstine knew this new connection to Lang and the Red Tail Squadron’s mission was not a passing impulse. Lang personified those young black aviators who so long ago demonstrated that if you put your mind to a task and stuck to it, anything could be accomplished. It was the story of the Tuskegee Airmen and ensuring it was told to America’s children became his dream.

Over the years, Van Iderstine remained close to Lang and the Red Tail Squadron. His support for their efforts never wavered.  Then one day in December 2013, Harry’s longtime friend Art Patstone, a Colonel in the Florida Wing of the CAF, suggested to Van Iderstine that he consider donating his three T-34’s to the CAF. He agreed to donate the three aircraft, but with one hard and fast stipulation: his T-34A, which had been repainted with the distinctive red tail, must be assigned to the Red Tail Squadron.

Fast forward to this past March in the CAF Florida Wing hangar. Van Iderstine sat watching the visitors and friends of the CAF gather, knowing that his dream was now a reality. Lang was there beside him and together they shook hands on the symbolic physical transfer of the aircraft. Van Iderstine presented Lang with the CAF Wings decal logo, which adorns all CAF aircraft, and in that moment, the dream was realized.

Presentation

Van Iderstine’s Red Tail T-34A will now take its place beside the Red Tail P-51C in its new home at the CAF Headquarters at the new CAF National Air Base in Dallas. This beautiful gesture is another example that if you put your mind to a task, it can be accomplished! On behalf of the CAF’s Red Tail Squadron and Florida Wing, thank you Mr. Van Iderstine for your generous gift, which will provide inspiration for generations to come.

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Portraits of Tuskegee Airmen: Dr. William Morgan

Portraits of Tuskegee Airmen: Dr. William Morgan

Dr. William Morgan, originally from rural Pennsylvania, was a Tuskegee Airman and pilot who learned about the Tuskegee Institute’s aviation program for black men from an article in a newspaper. He volunteered for service to our country in 1943, making it into the first-of-its-kind program at the Tuskegee Institute and qualifying to enter pilot training, which only accepted 35 out of 537 candidates at that time.

Growing up in the one black family in his small town, Dr. Morgan had little experience around other people of color before his time in the military. He is known to have said, “I learned a lot about life after meeting the cream of the crop of the black race. I saw what we could make of ourselves.”

He earned his wings and was commissioned as a flight officer in 1945, assigned as a replacement to the 332nd Fighter Group, although the war came to an end before he could fulfill the assignment. His class would be the last to graduate from the Tuskegee Institute aviation program.

After his service, he came back to rural Pennsylvania to work on his family’s farm, and then went on to dental school in Pittsburgh where he earned his DDS degree. Dr. Morgan eventually settled with his family in Minnesota, where he lived until his passing in 2006.

Like many people – then and now – Dr. Morgan’s two children did not learn about the Tuskegee Experience in their schooling and although their own father had been a part of this groundbreaking group, they didn’t fully understand the impact of that until reaching college and delving into black history at a deeper level. The Morgan family had always lived in rural areas with very little black population or exposure to black history, and Dr. Morgan wanted his children to make their own decisions about the issues of race, unfettered from his own experience.

“He was humble. He just wanted to be a pilot,” says Susan Morgan, the second of Dr. Morgan’s two children. “For him, discrimination was a part of the process. He was doing what he wanted to do, not thinking about the impact it would have on black history. He knew that whatever environment you were in, you can overcome those barriers.”

Ms. Morgan says that her father helped her to erase prejudicial barriers and preconceived ideas because he didn’t let the difficult things he experienced impact his or his family’s life. She is grateful that he gave her the freedom and ability to figure out delicate issues like race on her own and make her own judgments.

“Dad never impressed his experience on us, but being a Tuskegee Airman broadened his understanding and impacted our family,” she shared. “The Airmen were more than pilots – they were pursuing a dream and living a life. And today that message of perseverance, to follow your dreams, is still important.”

On behalf of the CAF Red Tail Squadron, we salute Dr. William Morgan for his service to our country, and for continuing to be an inspirational figure for generations to come.

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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