As the first black aviators to serve in the US Army Air Corps, Tuskegee Airmen broke through the massive segregation barrier in the American military. Their success and heroism during World War II, fighting Germany in the skies over Europe, shattered widespread stereotypes that African-Americans had neither the character nor the talent to fight.
Benjamin O. Davis, Jr./ Photo: Hohum / Wikipedia
In the summer of 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Civil Pilot Training Program Act to train civilian aviators in colleges and vocational schools in preparation for a national emergency.
The law provides that “no benefit from training or programs can be denied due to race, creed or color.” At that time, there were only 124 licensed black pilots in the United States and none in the Army Air Corps.
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In air combat in North Africa and Europe, these pilots flew more than 1,500 missions, mostly as escort planes for the bombers, but sometimes in direct combat.
Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. (1912-2002)
Citing the History page , the first person was Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. He was the son of the Army’s first black general, building a historic career. One of a handful of African-Americans accepted to the US Military Academy at West Point since Reconstruction and the only one there during his own tenure. He served three wars and became a general himself.
When Davis was promoted to Brigadier General in 1954, he became the Air Force’s first African-American general. In 2002, he was promoted to full general on the retired list at a White House ceremony with President Bill Clinton. In 2019, the US Air Force Academy named its airfield after him.
Daniel Chappie James (1920-1978)
Daniel James, the Air Force’s first four-star Black general, became a member of the Tuskegee Airmen in 1943, but spent World War II in the United States as a flight instructor. During the Korean War, he carried out 101 combat missions. As deputy commander of the Eighth Tactical Combat Wing in Thailand, James flew 78 combat missions during the Vietnam War.
In 1970, as commander of the 7272 Fighter Training Wing at Wheelus Air Force Base in Libya, James had an unforgettable standoff with Muammar el-Qaddafi, who recently led a successful military coup by the Libyan government.
Qaddafi tried to seize the base when he encountered James outside its gate. “I carry my 0.45 on my belt. I told him to keep his hands away. If he pulled the gun, he would never clean the holster, “said James.
The meeting passed without incident and James managed to remove 4,000 people and $ 21 million in assets from the facility. He died on February 25, 1978, a month after retiring from the Air Force.
Roscoe Brown (1922-2016)
During World War II, Roscoe Brown flew 68 combat missions, downing German jets outside Berlin during an escort mission in 1945. As part of the Tuskegee Airmen bomber escort mission in the 99th Fighter Squadron, he was among the one of the three Red Tailed Angels.
In 2007, Brown and five other Tuskegee pilots received a Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of nearly 1,000 black men who attended the Tuskegee Airmen program between 1941 and 1945. Brown also earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery and skill.
After the war, Brown became an educator, social activist and one of the most prominent carers of the Tuskegee Airmen legacy until his death at the age of 94.
Charles McGee (born 1919)
After graduating from flight training at Tuskegee in 1943, Charles McGee was assigned to the 332nd Fighter group, where he flew 137 combat missions. By the time he retired in 1973 from the Air Force with the rank of Colonel, he had flown 409 combined combat missions in World War II, Korea, and the Vietnam War, more than any other Air Force pilot.
Together with Roscoe Brown, McGee flies a P-51B Mustang and is one of the Red Tailed Angels escorting heavy bombers over targets in occupied European territory.
Lucius Theus (1922-2007)
Theus was the Tuskegee Airmen’s first and only mission support officer to be promoted to general and the third black Air Force general after Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., and Daniel Chappie James. During World War II, he served as a member of the 332nd Fighter group. Theus became the first African-American combat support officer to be promoted to general officer.
After World War II, he quickly rose through the ranks of an Air Force personnel officer. Following racial unrest between black and white enlisted men and noncommissioned officers at Travis Air Force Base in 1971, Theus was called in to manage a program to address equal opportunity and communication across races within the military, an initiative first inspired nearly 30 years earlier. through the success of the Tuskegee Airmen.