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.
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