The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators--both pilots and ground support personnel--in the United States Armed Forces. They flew and fought during World War II, when black Americans in many U. S. states were still subject to Jim Crow laws and the American military was racially segregated, as was much of the Federal Government. The Tuskegee Airmen were subjected to racial discrimination both within and outside the Army.
All black Army Air Force pilots were given primary training at Moton Field and went on to advanced training at the Tuskegee Army Airfield. Both were located in Tuskegee, Alabama, near the famous Tuskegee Institute (today Tuskegee University), which had been founded by Booker T. Washington.
The majority of "Tuskegee Experience" aviators went on to be trained as fighter pilots, though a number of them became medium-bomber pilots. The fighter pilots eventually were sent to North Africa, where they entered combat, while the bomber pilots continued stateside training with the expectation of being sent to the Pacific Theater of Operations. The war ended before this happened, however.
Meanwhile, the Tuskegee Airmen fought over North Africa and participated in the invasion of Sicily and then the Italian mainland. When a fighter base was established at Ramitelli, near the east coast of Italy, the Airmen became bomber-escort specialists, flying their P-47s and P-51s in support of Fifteenth Air Force B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers attacking Germany, Austria, Hungary and Romania. The Tuskegee Airmen were popularly known as "the Red Tails," because their fighters had unmistakable red-painted empennages, and bomber units often requested Red Tails as escorts, since few bombers ever were lost to Luftwaffe fighters when the Tuskegee Airmen were protecting them.
Few of the bomber crews knew that their protectors were African Americans, but all knew that they were very good and very brave.The Tuskegee Airmen and their all-black ground crews and support personnel achieved an enviable combat record but after the war returned to an America still beset by racial discrimination and segregation. In July, 1948, Pres. Harry S. Truman ordered the integration of all the U. S. Armed Forces. The original Tuskegee Airmen squadrons were decommissioned and their surviving Tuskegee Airmen distributed among other newly integrated units.
For more information on the Tuskegee Airmen, please visit our parent chapter at tuskegeeairmen.org.
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