Skip to comments.Aging Tuskegee Airmen Suit Up, Seek to Inspire Former Unit in Iraq
Posted on 10/22/2005 3:37:17 AM PDT by Jet Jaguar
TUSKEGEE, Ala. (AP) - Lt. Col. Herbert Carter is 86 years old and ready for deployment.
More than 60 years after his World War II tour with the pioneering black pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen, Carter's new mission will be shorter, though no less courageous.
Carter is one of seven aging Tuskegee Airmen traveling this weekend to Balad, Iraq - a city ravaged by roadside bombs and insurgent activity - to inspire a younger generation of airmen who carry on the traditions of the storied 332nd Fighter Group.
"I don't think it hurts to have someone who can empathize with them and offer them encouragement," he said.
The three-day visit was put together by officials with the U.S. Central Command Air Forces to link the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen with a new generation.
"This group represents the linkage between the 'greatest generation' of airmen and the 'latest generation' of airmen," said Lt. Gen. Walter Buchanan III, commander of the Air Forces command, in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
The retired Airmen who will make the trip - five pilots, a mechanic and a supply officer - shrugged off the dangers of Iraq, saying they have stared down the enemy before. Some fought in Korea and Vietnam as well as World War II.
Current members of the 332nd, redesignated as the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group in 1998, include men and women of different backgrounds and races.
But the black retirees said they are thrilled that a group still fights within their 332nd lineage, regardless of skin color.
"I'm proud they're in a unit carrying our name," said Charles McGee, 82, a retired colonel whose 409 combat missions is an Air Force record. "That's very meaningful from the heritage point of view."
The original Tuskegee Airmen were recruited in an Army Air Corps program created to train blacks to fly and maintain combat aircraft during World War II - though some of the retired Airmen say it was really designed to try to prove that blacks were incapable of flying and fighting.
Even after the first group completed pilot training in March 1942, they were not allowed to fly for more than a year.
"My status as a Negro bordered on second-class citizenship and the military simply reflected the culture of the time," Carter recalled in a recent interview. "If you were a Negro, you were a Negro in either setting."
Eventually, the black airmen flew escort for bombers. They were credited with shooting down more than 100 enemy aircraft and never losing an American bomber under escort to enemy fighters. In all, 992 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1940 to 1946. About 450 deployed overseas and 150 lost their lives in training or combat.
The trip to Iraq brings new recognition to the trailblazing team celebrated in a 1995 HBO movie, "The Tuskegee Airmen."
Maj. Anthony Robinson of Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., who spearheaded the trip for the seven, said the group in Iraq is looking forward to hearing the Tuskegee Airmen's stories.
Only about 100 Tuskegee Airmen are still living. Several surviving members said they would make the trip to Iraq if health issues did not stand in their way.
They said they would continue to speak to current units, schools and public officials to ensure their legacy stays alive years after they are gone.
"I think everything should be done to pass their story to future generation of Americans," said Ted Johnson, 80, who graduated from the Advanced Flight School in 1945 and is considered one of the youngest Tuskegee Airmen.
"It was the Tuskegee Airmen who made America come to its senses," he said, "that individuals should be judged on their accomplishments, rather than their ethnicity and color."
That was the best movie HBO has ever produced.
How uplifting to read this.
That is their unique claim, and a proud one. After all, protecting the bombers and their crews was the reason they were there. What good would it have done to have shot down one more enemy plane - or five of them - at the cost of an American bomber??
Nodding to that.
I met one of these pilots years ago and it is good to read that they are still being of service to this country.
Through? How about throw.
I am a homeschooler.
Could you give me some references to these stories that I may use in February?
Maybe a ping to the HS lists?
Those guys are the greatest -- imagine all the obstacles they had to overcome. It is bad enough fighting a foreign enemy -- imagine if your own country is basically against you in addition to that.
Harlem Hellfighters - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Harlem Hellfighters is the popular name for the 369th Infantry Regiment, formerly the 15th New York National Guard Regiment. The unit was also known as The Black Rattlers, in addition to several other nicknames.
Yes on "Glory", one of the best "war" movies EVER MADE.
No on "Tuskegee Airmen". Too simplistic and lousy dialogue.
God bless them, both for their earlier service to this nation as well as their bravery in supporting the troops now.
Thanks for the link!
I remember seeing a film in college on the black unit in WWI. They started out unloading ships for the AEF, and when they were finally allowed to go to the front, they were given to the French instead of fighting with American units. The French didn't care about what color they were since they desparately needed fresh troops and they had used colonial troops from Africa since 1914. As I recall, the unit served well for the French, and was the only Allied unit to reach German soil before the armistice. They also had one of the best bands in any army since they were from Harlem and and had many Jazz musicians in their ranks.
Tuskegee Airmen ping. :)
None more effective.
Read about this guy here. His name is Lt. Weathers, and he downed two German aircraft within a few minutes of each other, then got chewed out for "going after enemy aircraft for personal glory!".
Plus they didn't have that pesky French habit of saying "I surrender" in response to any question. ;-)
Bump to that!
The reason why is simple, yet sad. There's no money to be made from this truth.
The so called black leaders of today the MSM has annointed are extortionists for the liberal Democrat Party.
The real history is of little use to them, unless it can be applied as leverage for a contribution.
OOOhhhhhh man, how could I forget the Red Ball Express?
Tons of the drivers were black service troops, old B/W movie out there somewhere. Without them the race across France would have been stopped dead without supplies.
"The history of blacks in American History is scattered and piecemeal."
If you meany the representation of history in the public sphere,then I agree, but if you mean actual events, I disagree in the strongest possible terms.
From the very first casualty of the struggle that became the American Revolution, Crispus Attucks, to the The First Rhode Island regiment, an all black unit in Washington's Army, to The Twenty Sixth U. S. Infantry Regiment in the War of 1812, to Joe, William Travis' slave and survivor of the Alamo, to various freedmen in the Mexican War, to the 24 black soldiers awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in the Civil War, to the 10th Calvary battling with Geronimo and later under John "Black Jack" Pershing charging up San Juan Hill in the Spanish American War, to the 171 winners of the Croix De Guerre in WWI, to units like the Tuskegee Airmen and The 761ST Tank Battalion, known as the Black Panther Tank Battalion, that landed on Omaha Beach and later fought under George Patton, there is plenty of Black History within the greater context of American History. A person doesn't have to read crazy stories about jet aircraft flying around the pyramids to learn Black History, be it in February or any other month.
Tuskegee Airmen & Buffalo Soldiers BUMP!
That is "Cavalry", if you please.
Darn, you sure know your history! I was in from 78-81, 11B (jump & hump)
If today's blacks want to claim their only history is slavery and then oppression by the white man well fine, let them stew in their own juices.
Not all are like that. Just the ones the MSM give any notice to.
thanks for the ping
Oooo, a B model, my favorite. ;-)