My oldest son was quite interested in aviation in his younger years so, about 20 years ago, I took him and his next younger brother to the airport at Columbia, Missouri to an air show. We were looking forward with excitement to watching the jets and airplanes fly over. As we walked in to the bleachers beside the airstrip we saw a few tables set up with educational displays. I really don't remember what all they held, but one in particular caught my eye. My sons and I walked over and I eagerly held out my hand to introduce the three of us to the two elderly men sitting there. They were Tuskegee Airmen.
The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of World War II pilots who served with distinction during that horrible conflict. Though they consisted of only 996 pilots and about 15,000 ground personnel the units composing the group, also known as Red Tail Angels or just Red Tails, recorded some 15,500 combat sorties. They were credited with the destruction of 111 German airplanes destroyed in the air, and another 150 on the ground; 950 railcars, trucks, and other motor vehicles; and one destroyer. They suffered the loss of sixty-six pilots killed in action or in accidents and thirty-two pilots who were downed and captured.
According to one source, they earned three distinguished unit citations, at least one silver star, 150 distinguished flying crosses, 14 bronze stars, 744 air medals, and eight purple hearts for their achievements in the war.
In addition to serving with distinction oversees, the Tuskegee Airmen were groundbreaking because they were the first unit of black airmen in the United States armed forces. Besides fighting the forces of evil overseas, they fought racism back home, and they served with distinction on that front as well.
In addition to their service, the Tuskegee Airmen laid the groundwork for other milestones. In 1948, President Truman issued an executive order desegregating the Armed Forces of the United States. During the Korean War, Ensign Jesse Brown was shot down and a lieutenant received the Medal of Honor for his rescue attempt. In 1954, Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. became the first African American to be promoted to Brigadier General in the United States Air Force. In 1975 Daniel "Chappie" James became the first black four star general.
On January 5 of this year we lost two more Tuskegee Airmen. Clarence E. Huntley Jr. and Joseph Shambrey both passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 91. The world is a poorer place for their loss and a better place for their having lived.