In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt, anticipating possible war in Europe, started a pilot training program for civilians which was also opened to black Americans, and the 1940 Selective Training and Service Act allowed blacks to be drafted. The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of black pilots trained as part of the US Army Air Corps.
Between 1941-1946 nearly 1,000 pilots were trained at Tuskegee Institute (founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington). They formed the 99th Fighter Squadron and were sent overseas in 1942, with their first combat experience coming on June 2, 1943 on Pantelleria, an Italian island. In July 1944, three additional all-black squadrons joined them to make up the 332nd Fighter Group. Known for the red paint on the tails of their planes, the 332nd were nicknamed “Red Tails.”
They flew over 1,400 combat missions, destroying nearly 300 enemy aircraft, over 600 railroad cars, and 40 boats during the war. The 332nd flew many of its combat missions as protective escorts for vulnerable bomber groups. They were so successful that many bomber crews specifically requested them during their missions. About 150 Tuskegee Airmen were killed and an additional 32 were taken prisoner.
For their many acts of bravery, they received many awards. The 332nd was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for the longest bomber escort mission; and the 99th had received two Presidential Unit Citations before joining the 332nd. There were also 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars, and 8 Purple Hearts awarded to individuals in this famous group. Some of the amazing items we have in our WallBuilders collection includes various signatures and pictures of the Tuskegee Airmen. Theirs is truly a story worth remembering today.
Let’s thank God for the over one million courageous Americans who paid the ultimate price for us all, and let’s pray for the surviving family members of those who have died in this generation to protect our freedoms, and let’s also pray for protection for all those who are currently deployed to various danger spots around the world.
Blessed be the Lord my Rock,
Who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle
Psalm 144:1 (NKJV)
* Originally published: June 22, 2017.