World War II

The Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee Airmen became the first black military pilots. Congress in 1941 demanded that the U.S. Army Air Force form an all black combat unit and the first aviation class began in July 1941. Only five would successfully complete the class, one being Captain Benjamin O. Davis. CPT Davis' father, General Benjamin Davis would be commander of the Tuskegee Airmen. In the next five years over 900 hundred pilots would graduate from the program and receive commissions and pilot wings. Those who served overseas belonged to the 99th Pursuit Squadron (later the 99th Fighter Squadron) or the 332nd Fighter Group. Once deemed ready for fighting the 99th would head to fight in the North African campaign, the 332nd  Fighter Group would soon follow. The 99th would receive its first  Distinguished Unit Citation in 1943 and the second in May of 1944. The Tuskegee Airmen were credited with over a hundred Luftwaffe aircraft shot down and the destruction of numerous trains and trucks. In March of 1945, the 332nd Fighter Group a Distinguished Unit Citation for destroying three Me-262 jets while escorting B-17s to bomb Berlin, Germany. Despite their excellent war record, these men still faced discrimination and due to segregation there assignments were limited after the war. Around this time, many white units needed qualified pilots, but due to the segregation policy could not call on blacks to help. At this time, the United States Air Force began to make plans to integrate its units and then President's Truman executive order came in 1948. Once the executive order was mandated, the Tuskegee airmen were in high demand by the Air Force. Just in 2005, four Tuskegee airmen flew to Iraq to speak to active duty airmen (in the reactivated 332nd Air Expeditionary Group) about their experiences. 300 of the airmen and representatives of the men would be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in March of 2007. The airfield where these men trained is now the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. Throughout the military, members continue to pay tribute to these pilots have become something of a legend.

Facts...

  • Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, a black man named Yancy Williams pressured the military to open a pilot's training school specifically for blacks
  • Though attempts were made to integrate blacks more with whites, segregation was still very rampant
  • Those that served in WWII demanded that unlike those blacks that fought in WWI, that they would be given the right to serve as equals in every form of combat
  • The first hero of WWII was a black man named Dorie Miller aboard the USS Arizona. He not only carried his wounded Captain to safety, but also returned to man an anti-aircraft gun that brought down to Japanese plans
  • January of 1941 saw the formation of the first black Air Corps Unit, 99th Pursuit Squadron, the Lonely Eagles
  • Black women for the first time joined women's branches of the armed forces
  • July 1941- the first integrated Officers candidate schools (OCS) were opened
  • Even though allowed to be be officers, blacks were not able to command even the lowest ranking white soldiers
  • 1942- black women were allowed to attend the Officer training school for women at Fort Des Moines

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