Thursday, February 21, 2013

SLCC Celebrates Black History Month: The Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee Airmen is the name given to the African-American pilots who fought in the United States’ armed forces in World War II. They comprised the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Corps—a predecessor to the United States Army Air Forces.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the United States armed forces.

The 477th Bombardment Group trained with North American B-25 Mitchell bombers. The 99th Pursuit Squadron was the first African-American flying squadron, and the first to deploy overseas. The 332nd Fighter Group, which originally included the 100th, 301st, and 302nd Fighter Squadrons, deployed to Italy in 1944. That same year, the 332nd Fighter Group began flying bomber escort missions, and the 99th Fighter Squadron was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group.

In all, 992 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1941 to 1946. 450 of these airmen were deployed overseas; 150 died serving their country. The Tuskegee Airmen flew 1378 combat missions, 179 bomber escort missions, destroyed 262 and damaged 148 more, destroyed 950 rail cars, trucks and other motor vehicles and one naval destroyer ship.

In 1948, President Harry Truman enacted Executive Order Number 9981, which mandated equality of treatment and opportunity in the United States Armed Forces. This order led to the end of racial segregation in the military forces—a significant step toward racial integration in the United States of America.

Tuskegee Airmen were awarded: Three Distinguished Unit Citations, at least one Silver Star, 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses (including two to Captain William A. Campbell), 14 Bronze Stars, 744 Air Medals, and 8 Purple Hearts.

The airfield where the airmen trained is now the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. A Tuskegee Airmen Memorial was erected at Walterboro Army Airfield, South Carolina, in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen, their instructors, and ground support personnel who trained at the Walterboro Army Airfield during World War II.