Monday, December 15, 2008

Sitting with the best in history

The best of the best. Fellow Clevelander LeBron James? Nope. Wayne Gretzky? Nope. Tiger Woods? Nope.

The Tuskegee Airmen? Absolutely! Now we’re talking. I am joining the local chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen. These men were the best combat pilots in history. In World War II, the Airmen flew escort for bombers. Flying escort means is that fighter aircraft, (in their case, P-51s) fly side by side with the less agile bombers (usually B-17s) to their target and back home to the airbase.

The Tuskegee Airmen throughout the war were the only fighter squadron to never lose a bomber. Hundreds of bombing missions were flown and not one bomber was show down while being escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen. Understand how important this is to America. These were a black fighter group, in World War II where were facing not only the enemy, but they were facing racism that barely allowed them to fly, let alone be fighter pilots. Back in the 1940s, blacks could not even sweep most airports; therefore, these brave fighter pilots were accomplishing a task that was monumental. Here are more facts:

  • The Tuskegee Airmen were dedicated, determined young men who volunteered to become America's first Black military airmen

  • Tuskegee University was awarded the U.S. Army Air Corps contract to help train America’s first Black military aviators because it had already invested in the development of an airfield, had a proven civilian pilot training program and its graduates performed highest on flight aptitude exams.

  • The all-Black, 332nd Fighter Group consisted originally of four fighter squadrons, the 99th, the 100th, the 301st and the 302nd.

  • From 1940-1946, some 1,000 Black pilots were trained at Tuskegee.

  • The Airmen’s success during World War II – not losing a single bomber to enemy fire in more than 200 combat missions – is a record unmatched by any other fighter group.

  • The 99th Squadron distinguished itself by being awarded two Presidential Unit Citations (June-July 1943 and May 1944) for outstanding tactical air support and aerial combat in the 12th Air Force in Italy, before joining the 332nd Fighter Group.

  • The 332nd Fighter Group was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its longest bomber escort mission to Berlin, Germany, March 24, 1945. It destroyed three German ME-262 Jet fighters and damaged five additional jet fighters without losing any of the bombers or any of its own fighter aircraft to enemy fighters.

  • The 332nd Fighter Group had also distinguished itself in June 1944 when two of its pilots flying P-47 Thunderbolts discovered a German destroyer in the harbor of Trieste, Italy.

  • The tenacious bomber escort cover provided by the 332nd "Red Tail" fighters often discouraged enemy fighter pilots from attacking bombers escorted by the 332nd Fighter Group.

  • C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson earned his pilot's license in 1929 and became the first BlackAmerican to receive a commercial pilot's certificate in 1932, and, subsequently, to make a transcontinental flight.

  • Anderson is also well known as the pilot who flew Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, convincing her to encourage her husband to authorize military flight training at Tuskegee.

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