Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Living Black History

60 years after they last saw combat, four of the 332nd Fighter Group, famed as the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black fighter unit in the USAAF, are flying to Iraq to meet their successors in the 332nd Expeditionary Air Wing.

The airmen, now in their 80s, said some family members urged them against going to Iraq, where nearly 2,000 American service members have died since the start of the war in March 2003.

But they said they felt the trip is important.

“They need to realize that we support them in what they’re trying to do, and this is one of the best ways that we can do this by going over there and showing them that,” said retired Lt. Col. Robert Ashby, 80, one of the original Tuskegee pilots.

Many of the Tuskegee Airmen faced discrimination and bigotry throughout their highly decorated military careers.

During World War II, the military launched a special program to train blacks to fly and maintain aircraft. At the time, many people thought that blacks weren’t smart or courageous enough to fly combat aircraft, and some Tuskegee Airmen said the program was actually started to prove that blacks could not.

The first group of black pilots graduated from training in 1942 at Tuskegee Air Field, Ala., and proved any doubters wrong. Between 1942 and 1946, 992 pilots graduated from the program. They never lost a single bomber due to enemy fire.

More at BlackAmericaWeb. And this excellent site has the amazing statistic that in 1939 there were only 125 black pilots in the whole of the US.

Opinionjournal has a neat quote.

"What's so inspiring about the Tuskegee Airmen is that they served their country, and had faith in it, at a time when the country had not yet earned it".

Tuskegee has another claim to fame - the birthplace of the late Rosa Parks.

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