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.

Paying respect to the birthplace of our P-51C Mustang “Tuskegee Airmen”

Paying respect to the birthplace of our P-51C Mustang “Tuskegee Airmen”

Did you know the CAF has a resident historical expert who is nothing short of a gold mine of WWII aviation history and knowledge? Keegan Chetwynd, CAF Education Coordinator and Curator, recently shared a wealth of information about the birthplace of our P-51 Mustang Tuskegee Airmen, and it is FASCINATING.

Following a CAF headquarters event in Dallas, Chetwynd led a tour to the famed North American Aviation plant, the iconic aerospace manufacturer responsible for the mass production of aircraft from WWII. Their facility in Dallas was opened as the country prepared for war, and their presence helped the local economy rise from the ruins of the depression that were still felt in the hard-hit state of Texas.

The plant is actually located adjacent to Grand Prairie, just west of the city of Dallas. As a special benefit to CAF members, Chetwynd led a foot tour of the area surrounding the facility for those interested in learning more about this often forgotten, but important piece of Dallas history. It was a rare treat for CAF members to catch a glimpse of what was an iconic factory supporting our troops in WWII.

Bill Shepard, CAF Red Tail Squadron Leader and CAF Vice President of Education, attended the event. Visiting the site where our P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen rolled off the production line, built by the hands of what were very much artisans, was in his words, a very awe-inspiring moment.

“I don’t think people realize the impact that North American Aviation had on not just the socio-economic front, but how the work they provided the community helped to bridge some very large social gaps,” recalls Shepard. “People of many different backgrounds worked together washing the slate not clean, but cleaner. These folks worked together side by side, regardless of race, for a common goal. That was practically unheard of at the time.”

The effects of the wartime employment North American offered the Dallas area was felt for a long time. “The work being done on their shop floors at that point of time was very innovative for our society and helped to break down barriers. These opportunities brought people out of the fields and gave them the opportunity to earn a living wage and increase their station in life and that of their families. People in these communities today are the fruits of their parents’ labor. Its impact has been felt for generations.”

North American Aviation’s plant in Dallas was a place where tens of thousands of people were gainfully employed in a time of economic hardship, giving each person a chance to use their hands and intellect to help end the war. Up to 40,000 people were employed at the plant at its peak. They hired “outside the box,” employing men that were younger and older than the draft age, women, African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. And each employee at North American was encouraged to share their ideas for innovation, the implementation of which lead to safer practices and significant cost savings. This 24-hour-a-day operation was a focal point of manufacturing at that time in the U.S., and their contributions to the processes of manufacturing resonated across the industry.

Shepard lived near the facility in his youth. “My dad was stationed across the runway from here. As a kid I had no idea I was in close proximity to such important history,” Shepard remembers. “Looking at the shell of a building that was once there, Keegan colorized in our minds people in mass transitions, herds of people coming through to work. They worked to improve their lives and help end the war. It must have been an amazing sight.”

No books have been published to capture the story of North American’s important historical presence in Dallas. This was the largest aircraft production factory in WWII by volume, and it’s the only facility of its scale still standing today. There are many impressive statistics, including:

-       - The plant was built in 120 days

-       - They often produced aircraft faster than they could be picked up

-       - 83% of all AT-6 Texan aircraft were produced at this plant

-       - At it’s peak, 250 Mustangs per month came off the production line

-       - Every C model Mustang ever built came from this plant

-       - The site spans 272 acres and contains 2.9 million square feet in 85 buildings

-       - The Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP), the all-female pilot group that served the country stateside, picked up many of the planes and ferried them to their forward deployment locations

-       = An entire community known as Avion Village was built in record time to accommodate the workers, and people still live there today

To learn more, watch the CAF’s webinar, “The Forgotten History of North American Aviation in Dallas.” See historic photos, learn about the people who made their mark on our country’s airpower in WWII, and get a deeper look into a forgotten piece of American history.

 

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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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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Important opportunity for students to participate in Black History Month!

Important opportunity for students to participate in Black History Month!

Attention educators!

February marks the 40th anniversary of the formal adoption of Black History Month in the US, an important remembrance of people and events influential to the history of African Americans.

In an effort to bring the Tuskegee Airmen into YOUR classroom for Black History Month, our annual school competition is in full swing! Give your students the opportunity to think critically about the Squadron’s Guiding Six Principles, based on the Tuskegee Airmen’s determination to succeed, and reflect on how the legacy of the Airmen can be applied to their own lives. Students who submit an essay or artwork applying these Principles will be eligible to win one of several prizes from the Squadron.

Check out www.redtail.org/red-tail-competition/ for details on this fun and easy project for your students. But hurry! Entries must be submitted by February 26!

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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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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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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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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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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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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Back to school with our Six Guiding Principals!

Back to school with our Six Guiding Principals!

School bells are ringing and kids are clamoring for the school bus! It’s back to school for our nation’s schoolchildren and teachers everywhere are pouring their hearts into their lesson plans to make sure their student’s have a successful ’15-’16 school year.

But history schoolbooks can only cover so much in the time given, and unfortunately many children will not learn about the inspirational legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. In fact, there are plenty of adults out there who haven’t had the chance to learn about these fine Americans. No matter the age, it’s an important part of our history that should be known by all; an importance that extends beyond this history of WWII to the civil rights era and beyond, with the power to motivate and inspire people for generations.

As we embark on a new school year, what if we could get our Guiding Six Principles and the important lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen into the hands of teachers whose students could really use the inspiration?

Aim High

Believe In Yourself

Use Your Brain

Be Ready To Go

Never Quit

Expect to Win

This school year, we have launched an important mission to get 250 of our RISE ABOVE Resource Kits into the hands of teachers at schools around the national who do not have the budget for these important materials. We have identified schools in the areas most in need, and with your help we can help these teachers kick of a new school year with some very valuable resources to inspire their students to RISE ABOVE obstacles and achieve their dreams, just like the Tuskegee Airmen. 

Visit our special donation page to make your pledge and join the mission. Donors will even receive a thank you gift for supporting the cause.

Every day we are able to make a difference in the communities we visit and impact with our RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit, P-51C Mustang and RISE ABOVE Resource Kit, and it is because of YOUR financial and moral support. To say thank you just doesn’t seem adequate. We are grateful for this collective team effort! With our continued partnership we will make this school outreach mission a success!

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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The many faces of Rosie the Riveter

The many faces of Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter may be one the biggest female cultural icons of the 20th century, and still today. Hearing the name easily conjures up the image of a hardworking woman, with her hair tied up in a red scarf, pitching in to do her part in the factories and shipyards while the men were off fighting in WWII. The initiative sparked a social movement, bringing increased opportunities for women to work outside the home, and prove that a woman was capable of doing jobs traditionally held by men, and do them well!

What might be a little less obvious to see is the diverse community of women who filled this role. Women of all races and backgrounds joined the effort. “We Can Do It” was embraced by 6 million women from coast to coast, half of which worked in defense industry jobs. 

Today we recognize the over 600,000 black women who entered into the American wartime workforce. Not only were women getting the opportunity to directly contribute to the economy and war effort, but black women were working alongside white women which helped to begin to destroy the social barriers of segregation, ignorance and injustice.

Despite immense adversity, women of color had been leaving their lasting footprint on history for decades. Just in aviation, three notable aviators live on in the history books and continue to inspire today. In 1921, Bessie Coleman was the first black woman to earn her pilot’s license, having to do so in France because she could not receive training or gain the licensure in the U.S., simply because she was black and a woman. In 1938, Willa Brown became the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license inside the U.S. And in 1941, Mildred Hemmons made history in Alabama as that state’s first black female pilot, even after facing one obstacle after another.

The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), formalized in 1943, gave over 1,000 women with prior aviation experience the chance to fly military aircraft stateside, freeing up their male counterparts for service abroad. While a small handful of the women selected for the WASP program were non-white, black women were excluded, even from the application process, simply because of the era’s racial bias. That certainly did not stop women like Mildred Hemmons from pursuing their dreams.

But the times, they were a-changing. “Rosie” became a liberator for women of all colors, helping to lay the groundwork for the forthcoming civil rights movement of the 1960’s, just like the Tuskegee Airmen. Mother, grandmothers, aunts and sisters put on their work boots and treaded into new territory when they took on these jobs, while still managing the work at home. Like working moms today, these women balanced multiple roles, giving a country the “manpower” it needed to fight a war on a global scale, while keeping the home fires burning.

To the Rosies of every color, 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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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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We love the Northeast!

We love the Northeast!

As we write this, we have packed up the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit mobile theater back into its 53’ semi trailer and are on the road to the west coast! (Look out Washington and Oregon!!) We spent six weeks in the Northeast meeting many new friends and sharing our inspirational message with hundreds of kids and adults. Here’s a quick roundup on where we’ve been!

We started out in Pittsburgh where we set up at the Beaver County Airport. The event was part of the Air Heritage Museum’s Beaver County History Weekend Celebration. The CAF Red Tail Squadron partnered up with members from Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. and the Tuskegee Memorial project for the event. Our P-51C Mustang made a special flyover appearance of the dedication ceremony carrying a VIP passenger, the daughter of original Tuskegee Airman Lt Calvin Smith. Our Mustang and Exhibit got lots of positive attention from the local media as well!

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Moving on to Maryland, we made a visit to the Carroll County Regional Airport for their open house that included history, activities, events, patriotic music, food and more. For three days leading up to the event, the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit hosted many groups to view the original movie “Rise Above” in our mobile theater and learn about our guiding Six Principles - Aim High, Believe In Yourself, Use Your Brain, Be Ready To Go, Never Quit, Expect to Win.

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Carroll County Airport Md 024

During the event in Maryland, our P-51C Mustang took a little side trip to Washington, DC to participate in the Arsenal of Democracy, a large-scale flyover of our nation’s Capitol to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day. Our Mustang, the Tuskegee Airmen, joined dozens of vintage WWII-era aircraft for this historic event. Each formation that passed was a compelling sight, especially with the awe-inspiring Washington Monument as its backdrop. But when the P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen made its entrance with its formation group, the crowd erupted in cheers and applause. These fighters, even 70 years after the fall of the Nazis, elicit a great deal of pride and excitement.

Darius Jezewski

Then we were on to Massachusetts for the Great New England Air Show, hosted by Westover Air Reserve Base and the Galaxy Council.  This HUGE event featured the awe-inducing Navy’s Blue Angels, the Canadian Snow Birds and the F-22 Raptor, along with many other stunning military aircraft in the air show and on static display. The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and our P-51C Mustang were a fantastic addition to the event’s line up and droves of people - young and old alike - learned a great deal about the Tuskegee Airmen over the course of this two-day show.

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Moving south, we made a stop at the Erie International Airport in Erie, PA. The event was made possible by the Urban Erie Community Development Corporation (UECDC), which provides educational services and employment preparation skills to the impoverished, disadvantaged and at-risk individuals of the Erie Community. Again, we hosted many, many school and youth groups to privately tour the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and see the Mustang up-close on static display. For these very important educational outreach visits, CAF Red Tail Squadron staff and volunteers are on-hand to speak directly to the students, sharing our inspirational message and how it can be applied to their own lives. The kids really enjoy meeting our P-51 pilots in person and learning not only about history, but aviation, science and technology as well.

Erie Pa 114

We wrapped up our Northeast tour with a VERY fun stop at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s World War II Weekend in Reading, PA. This fun event featured warbirds, reenactments and performers for history and aviation enthusiasts alike. Our RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and P-51C Mustang was the perfect accompaniment for this exciting event.

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As I’m sure you’re well aware when you gas up your own vehicle at the pump, taking our RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and P-51C Mustang out on the road (and into the skies!) across the country takes a lot of fuel, which is not cheap commodity these days! But because of donors and supporters like YOU we are able to have a big impact with this unique educational outreach program.

Want to see us in your town? Know where our inspirational message could make an impact? Interested in supporting this great cause? Contact LaVone Kay, CAF Red Tail Squadron marketing director, at info@redtail.org or (888) 928-0188. One-time or recurring donations can be made securely online at https://secure.qgiv.com/for/crts or sent to the CAF Red Tail Squadron at 971 Hallstrom Drive, Red Wing, MN 55066.

Ensuring the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen is not forgotten is a collective effort, and we are grateful to our donors and supporters to who keep their inspirational message alive!

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: Judge Richard Rutledge

Judge RutledgeThe legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen by no means ends with their successful combat missions in WWII. Not only did their experience shape the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and the ongoing collective effort for equality, but the more than 10,000 men and women among the ranks of the Tuskegee Airmen used their military service as a platform for future professional success.

Jersey-born and Brooklyn-raised Richard Rutledge began is his five-year service when he enlisted in the U.S. Army Corps in 1941, and was assigned to the ground crew of the famed 99th Pursuit Squadron. By the beginning of 1943 he was commissioned as a Warrant Officer Junior Grade, but when the 99th departed Tuskegee Airfield that spring, Rutledge was transferred to an all-black engineer aviation squadron at March Field in Riverside, California.

“I was the Adjutant for the Headquarters Company. I went with them in a convoy of over 100 ships under the command of Admiral “Bull” Halsey and was part of the invasion of the Palau Islands on the South West Pacific,” recalls Rutledge. “Our battalion’s job was to build an airfield on the island so that General Douglas MacArthur could use it and ‘return to the Philippines’.”

By the time the war ended with the surrender of the Japanese, Rutledge had spent 20 months overseas and a total of five years in the Army Air Corps. His service complete, he went on to obtain an undergraduate degree at the Washington Square College of Liberal Arts & Science and then graduated in 1950 from the Brooklyn Law School.

Rutledge maintained a private law practice, Rutledge, Holmes, Mitchell, Willis and Kellam, in Queens for 34 years. He went on to be elected to the Civil Court of the City of New York for a term of 10 years. He was elected as Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York for 14-year term and served in Queens County for 7 years.

Richard20RutledgeNow a resident of Florida, Rutledge was appointed a Circuit Court Mediator by the Florida Supreme Court in 2000. Then in 2003 he was appointed by the U.S. District Court as a Federal Court Mediator.

Not only has Rutledge inspired many with his service to our country during WWII – in spite of the obstacles of racism, segregation and unequal opportunity – but his esteemed education and career continues to illustrate the power of determination and hard work.

Thank you Judge Rutledge for your service to the citizen of our country, both in your military and civilian careers, and for encouraging future generations to 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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The Freeman Field Mutiny and Tuskegee Airmen Beyond Alabama

The Freeman Field Mutiny and Tuskegee Airmen Beyond Alabama

Although the Tuskegee Airmen earned their namesake because of the groundbreaking training of the first black military pilots at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama, the training of black pilots and support crew (collectively all known as Tuskegee Airmen) took place at several additional locations around the US, including Texas, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, New York, New Jersey and Indiana. One of these – Freeman Army Air Field in Indiana – became the setting for an important event in the history of the Tuskegee Airmen and ultimately the civil rights movement.

The airmen that would serve as fighter pilots were primarily trained at Moton Field from 1942 to 1945, but in 1944 an all-black group of pilots-in-training was assembled at Selfridge Field near Detroit to form the 477th Bombardment Group, that would fly B-25 bombers. The war ended before the bomber pilots saw action, but their courage and determination ended up playing a large role in the fight for civil rights, right here at home.

As is illustrated by the Tuskegee Airmen, the era of WWII saw many people of color bravely stepping up to serve their country – and fighting for that right to do so – even amidst deeply-held prejudices and the segregation that resulted from it. For the 477th, racial tensions were exacerbated by their white leadership’s insistence on enforcing strict social segregation practices, even though it violated the regulations of the time which prohibited any public building on a military installation from being used "for the accommodation of any self-constituted special or exclusive group." The officers club – which should have served all officers regardless of race – became the battleground for the antiquated and unjust ideals of white superiority.

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

There had been issues with officers’ clubs in the past, but at Freeman Field the black officers took a stand, and ended up in the history books. On April 5, 1945, black officers, in small groups, tried to enter the white-only officers club. As the night and attempts at entry progressed – and as they were subsequently turned away – the officers were met with greater resistance. Eventually, those who had tried to gain entrance were arrested, totaling 61 in that one event.

The “Freeman Field Mutiny,” as it became known, was a non-violent act of protest that went on to become a treasured and landmark point in the burgeoning civil rights movement. No one acted in a physically harmful way, although one black officer was cited for “jostling.” Still, the officers waging their peaceful protest would not go down without their voices being heard.

58 of the officers arrested were released after recommendation of the Air Inspector of the Air Force. But Col Selway was not satisfied and drafted new guidelines that would clarify the regulation of use of buildings such as officers clubs. He tried to force all of the black officers to sign a document acknowledging the still-unjust regulations, under threat of arrest for disobeying a direct order by a superior officer in a time of war, a very serious offense. Out of all the officers, only four signed, and 101 officers were arrested for their non-participation.

In response, the 477th was transferred back to Godman Field in Kentucky where the 101 “offending” officers awaited trial. Fortunately, outside organizations petitioned for the drop of charges, which came to fruition on April 23, 1945. All were not exonerated though, and it would take decades to officially clear the records of all involved of any wrongdoing.

The effects of racism can be quite nuanced. Some are as blatant as denying a person the right to sit in a comfortable seat on the bus, simply because of the color of their skin. Others are subtler, like the fact that it was not until 1995 that the Tuskegee Airmen involved in the Freeman Field Mutiny would have their full records cleared and restored. This peaceful protest became an important part of our country’s history, and not just that of the Tuskegee Airmen. When they fought for the right of equal access for all, they did so on behalf of every citizen of this country and the right to freedom and liberty for all.

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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