On January 16, 1941, the War Department announced the formation of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, a black flying unit, to be trained at Tuskegee, Alabama, the home of Tuskegee Institute. The Secretary of the Army announced that eleven white officers would be assigned to the duty of training 429 enlisted men and 47 officers as the first black military personnel in the flying school. From the inception of the 99th through the period that signaled the ending of WW II (1946), the following numbers of black combat flyers completed training: 673 single-engine pilots; 253 twin-engine pilots; 58 liaison field artillery officers and 132 navigators. The bulk of the flyers were in the 332nd Fighter Group, which consisted of the 99th Fighter Squadron; the 100 th Fighter Squadron; the 301 st Fighter Squadron; the 302nd Fighter Squadron; the 616th Bombardment Squadron; the 618th Bombardment Squadron and the 619th Bombardment Squadron. These men called themselves the "Lonely Eagles", a name which became their reality.
Among these men, were Nebraskans Alfonza W. Davis, Paul Adams, Ralph Orduna, John L. Harrison, Woodrow Morgan, Edward Watkins, Harrison A. Tull and Charles A. Lane, Jr., who trained to become flyers. The enlisted members trained to be aircraft and engine mechanics, armament specialists, radio repairmen, parachute riggers, control tower operators, policemen, administrative clerks and other skills necessary to fully function as an Army Air Corps (AAC) flying squadron or ground support unit. Enlisted men from Nebraska were: Melvin C. Robinson, Jethro Spurlock, William B. Patterson, Ellsworth P. Pryor, Calvin Hobbs, Albert Johnson, Jr., Erven McSwain, Marion N. Moore and Robert D. Holts. Standards were not lowered for the pilots or any others who trained in operations, meteorology, intelligence, engineering, medicine or other fields. The first aviation cadet class trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) in
Tuskegee, Alabama beginning July 1941. They completed training nine months later in March 1942. From 1942 through 1946, 993 pilots graduated and received commissions and pilot wings. Black navigators, bombardiers and gunnery crews were trained at bases elsewhere in the US. Mechanics were trained at Chanute Air Base in Rantoul, Illinois until facilities were in place in 1942 at TAAF.
These airmen fought wars against an enemy military force overseas and against racism at home and abroad and forged the path for what forever changed the fabric of this country. Airmen who did not go overseas trained at Selfridge Field, Michigan as bomber crews in the 477th Bombardment Group (Medium). This composite group also included the 602nd Air Engineering Squadron, 616 th, 617th, 618th and the 619th Squadrons and was equipped with B-26 and later B-25 aircraft. Highly trained military officers, they were denied access to the base officers' club, experiencing a great deal of racism and were treated as "trainees". The group was transferred to Godman Field, Kentucky, then later to Freeman Field Indiana, where the hostilities reached a climax. Black officers tried to enter the club against direct orders. 103 officers were arrested and faced court martial. These proceedings were quickly dropped against 100 of the officers; 2 officers eventually had charges dropped and 1 officer, Lt. Roger "Bill" Terry, was convicted. In 1995 all references to the Freeman Field incident were purged from the airmen’s records and the charges against Mr. Terry had been reversed.
Campaigns of the 332nd Fighter Squadron included Sicily; Naples-Foggia; Anzio; Rome-Arno; Normandy; Northern France; Southern France; North Apennines; Rhineland; Central Europe; Po Valley, and Air Combat-EAME Theater. The 99th Fighter Squadron earned the "Distinguished Unit Citation" for Sicily, June-July, 1943; Cassino, May 1, 1944 and Germany, March 1945. On July 2, 1943, the 99th shot down their first enemy aircraft. Racial attitudes and discriminatory behavior of some Army Air Force leaders and officials led them to question the performance of the Tuskegee Airmen (TA). The 99 th Squadron and allied forces landed in Anzio January 21, 1944. The unit had seventeen confirmed kills, four probable victories and six damaged enemy aircraft by February 10th. News of the success of the TA reached military leaders. Many leaders began to favor them and praised their achievements and included them in more vital missions. The TA earned the respect of bomber crews who depended upon them for coverage. They were dubbed the "Red-tail Angels" by groups they escorted. Perhaps the unit’s greatest claim to fame was they never lost a bomber to enemy fighters. Sixty-six of these pilots were killed in aerial combat while another thirty-two were shot down and captured as POWs. After the war, Black airmen returned to the US and faced continued racism. Achievements and accolades attributed to these courageous men returning to their civilian lives in Nebraska have been: holding positions in leadership and respect as businessmen, teachers, civic leaders, community mentors, proclamations from public and City Officials and even public and military buildings named in their honor.
The distinguished record of the TA include 993 trained fighter pilots flying 1,578 missions, 15,533 sorties and awards to included 1 Legion of Merit,1 Silver Star, 2
Soldier Medals, 8 Purple Hearts, 95 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars and 744 Air Medals and clusters. On March 29th, 2007, the TA was collectively honored and bestowed the most distinguished award established by the US Congress, the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of their selfless service to their country.
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