Remembering the Tuskegee Airmen


hey were pioneers who blazed a trail through the war torn skies over Europe. Before the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, no black American had ever been a U-S military pilot…after the Tuskegee Airman, the U-S military would never be the same. 

Widespread discrimination prevented African Americans from flying during the First World War. For the next twenty years, the pressure would slowly build to allow black pilots to serve in the sky. Finally in 1941 the Army launched what it called “an experiment” -- the segregated 99th Fighter Squadron. That squadron would train at an airfield near Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, and thus, the Tuskegee Airmen were born. To be clear, not every Airman was a pilot...for every man who flew, there were ten keeping him in the air, men and women, military and civilian, who served on ground duty support , like mechanics, supply personnel, cooks, and more. And not all were black...some were white, or Latino, or Native American. 

One notable woman who helped the Tuskegee Airmen take off into history was the First Lady of the United States. Eleanor Roosevelt visited the squadron in 1941, and insisted a black pilot take her up, and that photographs would  be taken. Those photographs helped convince President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to send the unit into action, first in North Africa, and later in Europe. 

The 99th, along with other squadrons, would later form the 332nd Fighter Group in Europe -- their planes boasting tails painted bright red. In Europe the airmen would fly more than 15-thousand sorties, completing an unequalled 15-hundred combat missions, all while showing great courage, skill, and dedication. Among their decorations: one hundred and fifty Distinguished Flying Crosses. Squadron leader Benjamin O. Davis Jr. would eventually rise to the rank of three star general, receiving a fourth star post retirement.

The Tuskegee Airmen were deactivated in 1946, the experiment a great success. But more than that. The brave fliers had proved themselves in combat, and their performance helped pave the way for desegregation of the military in 1948.

Today the National Park Service’s Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama, helps tell their story, and preserves their memory for all time. 

Among the many contributions by African Americans to the country are their service and sacrifice in times of war. We pause to remember the Tuskegee Airmen. Breaking barriers and fighting Nazis, the proud pilots of the 99th Fighter Squadron earned the respect of their fellow pilots and wrote their names in the history books. Their success helped pave the way for the desegregation of the military after World War II.