Risking My Life and Still Called the “N” Word -The Tuskegee Airmen
It must be terribly difficult to be a minority in whatever country one lives in and to never feel the acceptance that others feel. I thought of this as I walked out of the theater last evening. The film was the story of the Tuskegee airmen during World War II and their giving of their best for their country, the United States of America. These men risked their lives and were still called the “N” word during this time of segregation in American history. Vietnam Veterans, of all races, were also looked down upon by society because they were military in an unpopular war. It is hard to be spat on and to endure so much that is undeserved when all you have done is to serve.
The movie, Red Tails, was made by George Lucas, who felt that African-American young men today are not encouraged by role models of the past. He wanted to give them hope and a reference for building their lives.
Columnist Courtland Milloy felt Lucas missed the mark. “During a recent screening of the movie sponsored by the National Association of Black Journalists, I sat with several Tuskegee Airmen. The men were pleased that the history of the black pilots, gunners and mechanics was getting so much attention, and they were grateful to Lucas for using $93 million of his own money to help bankroll the film. Nevertheless, they saw little of themselves on the screen. Col.Davis would not have tolerated the fist fights, aerial stunts, drunkenness and insubordination. For my money, Lucas could have depicted the pilots as they were …He could have at least made them appear credible as pilots.”
George Lucas’s intentions for making the movie may have been good. In my years as an educator, the focus was on overall history until Black History month. Dr. King was highly praised for his work against discrimination. More recently, voters have proven that attaining the Presidency had no racial barrier. Nevertheless, for many African-American males, athletes are their closest example if there is not a strong father figure in the family. The men of the 332nd Fighter Group had what it took: patriotism, willing to educate themselves and determination despite the discrimination of the times.
Author Douglas Moser tells it this way. “President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940 ordered the creation of an all-black flying corps. A year later, qualified servicemen were trained at Tuskegee Institute, an African-American teaching school in central Alabama founded by Booker T. Washington, under contract with the U.S. Army, according to the National Park Service history of the program. Pilots who completed their training at the institute trained at the Tuskegee Army Airfield.
In April 1943, the 99th Fighter Squadron from Tuskegee was deployed to North Africa for combat and soon was joined by the 100th, the 301st and the 302nd squadrons to form the 332nd Fighter Group.
The Airmen completed 15,000 sorties in about 1,500 missions, destroyed over 260 enemy aircraft, sank one enemy destroyer and demolished many enemy installations, according to the National Park Service. The Tuskegee Airmen were awarded numerous high honors, including Distinguished Flying Crosses, Legions of Merit, Silver Stars, Purple Hearts, the Croix de Guerre and the Red Star of Yugoslavia. A Distinguished Unit Citation was awarded to the 332nd Fighter Group for “outstanding performance and extraordinary heroism” in 1945.
Between 1941 and 1945, Tuskegee trained about 1,000 pilots for the war effort, according to the National Park Service. During its run until 1949, the program trained 994 African-American pilots. The Airmen were assigned to strafing and beach-clearing missions because the generals were skeptical of their ability. But as the war took its toll on the Army Air Force, a general approached Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., commander of the 332nd, about using the Airmen in combat missions.
Davis agreed and asked for better planes. The Army Air Force upgraded the group to P-51s and assigned them to escort bombers on sorties to Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania. The Tuskegee Airmen performed so well, bomber pilots began asking specifically to be escorted by Red Tails, named so because their planes’ tails were painted red.”
Whatever this film does for any minority who struggles, it is a recognition that is long-time in coming for African-American men who served and served well. We are losing our WWII veterans by the hundreds each day. We salute you.